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No evidence of gunman targeting black people at traffic lights in Arizona

June 18, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Public service announcement warns of a white supremacist who has been shooting at black people at traffic lights. He drives a white truck and was last seen in Mesa, Arizona.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. State and local officials have not issued an announcement warning of a gunman targeting motorists in the state and no such shootings have been reported in Mesa, surrounding cities or other parts of Arizona, local and state police told The Associated Press. Organizations that track violence by white supremacists also had received no information about any such attacks.

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THE FACTS: On the evening of Tuesday, June 16, a post made to look like a public service announcement began circulating on Instagram and Facebook with claims of a violent white supremacist in Arizona.

“PSA,” the post said, “If you’re in AZ there is a white supremacist shooting black people at stop lights. He drives a white truck.” The post added that the driver was last seen in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix.

By Wednesday afternoon, identical posts shared on Facebook had been viewed more than 100,000 times.

A call to the Mesa Police Department revealed there’s no evidence of any such activity in the city, though the department has been aware of the social media rumor since Tuesday night.

“We have not had any calls regarding this or anything similar,” Detective Jason Flam, the department’s public information officer, said in an email to the AP. “Our intelligence unit is aware and looking into this fake PSA.”

Flam said he was concerned that someone was “trying to create fear” with the unfounded post.

Flam said he reached out to surrounding agencies in Gilbert, Chandler, Scottsdale and Tempe to investigate whether the posts were targeting multiple cities. He said the officers were unaware of any similar PSAs circulating in their jurisdictions.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety had not seen any incidents like the one described in the post, spokesman Raul Garcia told the AP.

“This may be an example of disinformation designed to divide the community and cause fear,” he said in an email. “I have submitted the information to the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center.”

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Both Marcela Taracena, a spokesperson for the ACLU in Arizona, and Rebecca Sturtevant, an associate media director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said they had not received any reports about a white supremacist shooting people in Arizona.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536