Hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could confirm there were no active coronavirus cases in San Diego County, hoax news articles circulating on social media had students and parents worried there were infected people who visited local campuses.
Students said they saw three different versions of fake news stories posted on Snapchat. They claimed students at three different schools were being tested for the virus at the center of a Global Emergency declared by the World Health Organization.
At least one of the fake article clippings included the San Diego Union-Tribune’s masthead.
Many students told NBC 7 they could tell the articles were fake. The Grossmont Union High School District reiterated that prank articles were completely inaccurate.
“I didn’t believe it because I don’t think it’s near here,” student Abraham Cabalero said.
He thought it was strange the information was being spread through social media and not by the district or its teachers.
“It was on Snapchat and that’s how I saw it,” he explained.
A Grossmont Union High School District spokesperson said the hoax articles referencing Grossmont High School and Mount Miguel High School originated on a website called Channel22News.com, which is clearly a prank website. The site allows users to create a prank news article, take a screenshot of it and then post it to social media.
The article with the UT’s masthead referencing West Hills High School is slightly different, as it appears to be an actual article about the virus led with a doctored headline.
That article looked legitimate enough for some students to become concerned, including some at West Hills High School in Santee.
“I was really scared because I didn’t want to get sick,” one student said. “I was terrified of people touching me and sneezing around me ‘cause I didn’t want to get the virus.”
The stir was enough for the district to release a statement warning of the prank. The district spokesperson said the prank did not affect attendance at any of the three high schools mentioned.
The district is investigating who created the prank news articles. There's no word on what the punishment will be if the culprit is found.