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Texas Man Arrested After Sparking Panic By Pretending To Have Virus On Facebook For 'Social Experiment'

Tyler County Sheriff's Office

A 23-year-old Texas man had big ideas about the fake news that people read and believe without confirmation.

He wanted to prove a point.

So he heaped his own phony tales onto the pile, everyone believed it and he ended up in jail.

Lesson learned, though a different one than expected.

"But because of a Facebook post I lost my job, my health benefits. I couldn't start my masters program on time due to not having the money."

These were some of Michael Lane Brandin's concluding remarks after he posted some false information to Facebook.

In the post, on March 13, Brandin made two false claims:

  • that he had the virus
  • that his doctors informed him that the virus was airborne.

Airborne transmission would make the virus WAY more contagious than it already is. The crisis would be even more catastrophic.

According to his arrest record, obtained by BBC News:

"Brandin advised Deputies his post was to make a point that you cannot believe everything you read on the internet."

Brandin's "social experiment," as he went on to call it, did not have the desired educational effect he had intended.

Very worried viewers of the post called the local hospital asking about the new airborne transmission "discovery." The Tyler County Sheriff's Office received repeated calls about the post, according to the same police report.

Panic abounding, the police contacted Brandin and ordered he change the post. He did, but the damage was done.

The information was already on the move around the social media site.

Police stepped in to set the record straight, informing the Facebook community that Brandin had been charged with "False Alarm," a Class A Misdemeanor.

The Texas Penal Code defines False Alarm as:

"A person commits an offense if the person knowingly communicates a report of an emergency that he knows is false or baseless and that would ordinarily cause action by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies."

In other words, don't make stuff up and create so much panic that legitimate lifesaving institutions get preoccupied with your stunt and pulled away from the real work.

When police arrested Brandin, the local judge wasn't around, so they had to give it a night before formal charges were decided. So the 23-year-old spent that night behind bars.

He was released the following day on a $1,000 bond.

Brandin took a moment to tell BBC News his anti-fake news qualifications and elaborate on the ramifications of the whole ordeal.

"I have a bachelors of science degree in mass communications. I did it to prove how easy it is for anyone to post something online and cause panic."
"I wanted to prove that it is important for people to be educated and do their own research before assuming everything they read or hear is true."
"But because of a Facebook post I lost my job, my health benefits. I couldn't start my masters program on time due to not having the money."
"It has put a financial burden on my entire family because they are all trying to help me pay my bills."

Twitter was not at all supportive of his experiment with fake news.

While fake news and misinformation regarding the virus is indeed an issue, there are better ways to combat the problem.