On July 26 2020, what appeared to be a shocking local news story (headline: “Pedophile’s Decapitated Corpse Found On Judge’s Doorstep After Bail Hearing In Ocala, Florida”) began circulating on Facebook and Twitter:
It's times like these Florida redeems herself.https://t.co/p7sCsbO6Jd
— §pånkədurmøm (@eachthornsperil) July 27, 2020
This is the wayhttps://t.co/Nuqt5iQcWK
— Pirate King (@Pirate__King__) July 26, 2020
This is how it should always be done. Ending the weekend on a good note 👍
Pedophile’s Decapitated Corpse Found On Judge’s Doorstep After Bail Hearing In Ocala, Florida https://t.co/nJETL4cZpW
— JENNIFUH (@thatmouf) July 27, 2020
LETS FUCKING GOOOO!!!!
A pedophile's decapitated corpse was left on a florida judge's doorstep after that judge let him walk free on bail!https://t.co/ziRzRFRaHZ
— Bacon Fryer 🐷🥓 (@DiabloSatori) July 27, 2020
— Buster Williams (@WDevil1776) July 27, 2020
Clicking through to the link led to a story, which began:
The decapitated corpse that was found on a judge’s doorstep in Ocala, Florida has been identified as belonging to a notorious pedophile who was recently allowed to walk free on bail by the judge, according to reports.
William Smith, 28, was discovered in the early hours of [July 21 2020], decapitated and slumped against the front door of the judge who had granted him bail in August.
Smith was arrested [in June 2020] following allegations by his then girlfriend that he had raped her 8-year-old daughter.
After a police investigation in which Smith was found in possession of child pornography, he was arrested on two counts related to child pornography and one count of child molestation.
After being charged, Smith walked free from the court after the judge controversially ruled that he did not pose a threat to the local community, and he raised the $30,000 bail required to trigger his freedom.
In extremely small text at the bottom of the page was a satire disclaimer, which read:
Disclaimer: This is satire.
On July 26 2020, fact-checking site LeadStories.com noted that initial iterations of the claim originally appeared on disinformation pages Neon Nettle and YourNewsWire, which it pithily described as “two sites with a long history of publishing stories of questionable veracity,” adding that scraper sites recycled the phony story in perpetuity:
In 2018 Lead Stories debunked a copy of the story being spread by a now-defunct network of Macedonian fake news sites.
The current “Florida” version of the story has now gone viral via “The South East Journal” … The site appears to be part of a network of sites that uses rewritten versions of old fake news stories to attract traffic, claiming they are “satire”. Stories appear to be reused multiple times but set in different locations.
The same “pedophile’s decapitated corpse found on a judge’s doorstep” story had circulated in myriad forms since at least 2017. Recycling the headline, content, and image is attractive to purveyors of false claims and unreliable content, because readers inevitably share what they see as a story of justifiable violence.