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Incorrect report of drowning highlights importance of avoiding misinformation online

Incorrect report of drowning highlights importance of avoiding misinformation online
Posted at 8:07 PM, Jan 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-25 23:20:39-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Back in November, Caroline Deane got a call from her husband saying she needed to rush from her job in Port Aransas to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi.

Their 13-year-old daughter, Keeley, had been involved in some kind of incident in the pool at the Flour Bluff I.S.D. Natatorium. But as she raced to the hospital, she got the news that no parent wants to hear.

"Her friends started calling and saying, ‘Hey, we heard Keeley drowned," Deane said.

Those friends heard that Keeley had drowned on an independent news website. But the report was incorrect.

The Flour Bluff Junior High School eighth-grader did suffer a seizure while swimming and needed life-saving medical attention, but by the next morning, Keeley was breathing on her own again, and her parents knew she would survive.

Life is now back to normal, except for a lingering stigma that reinforces the trauma she went through.

“Here I have a 13-year-old daughter who is struggling — who wants to be a 13-year-old girl without any extra baggage," Deane said. "And now she’s the girl that drowned in the pool."

The trauma wasn't limited to Keeley and her family.

Immediately after the false report went out that a child had drowned at the school district's natatorium, phone calls poured into the administration building. The district's brand new spokesperson fielded as many of them as she could.

“Having to have that conversation with parents in tears — really scared for the safety of their children and thinking something may have happened to their child — was heartbreaking, because that was untrue," Flour Bluff I.S.D. Executive Director of Communications and Public Relations Kristen Bily said.

Misinformation online is also a concern for the Corpus Christi Police Department, because of the unnecessary fear it can spread in the community.

In the case of the near-drowning, a C.C.P.D. spokesperson says the news website in question did not do what journalists are supposed to do.

“We will get calls from the news media to verify information that they’re getting — where somebody who just owns a page on the internet won’t do that,” Lt. Michael Pena said.

That's why he and Deane — a former teacher — have the same advice.

“It’s very important to get your information from legitimate sources — legitimate news media outlets," Pena said. "Anybody can put anything on the internet. (That) doesn’t mean it’s always accurate.”

“I always taught my kids — you have to go for the correct sources," Deane said. "And if you’re going to write something, it needs to be factual. Go to a news source that is factual.”