No, you probably can’t get arrested for lying about someone else on Facebook. If you could, we’d need a lot more jails.
But if you lie about something serious—like child abuse—then lie again to police and child-protective services when they come asking about it, then you’ve got a problem.
That’s allegedly what happened last week in Bloomington-Normal. Police arrested Tricia Danyus, 31, of Normal on Sept. 5 and charged her with filing a false report with the Department of Children and Family Services and obstruction of justice. Normal Police say Danyus posted a photo on Facebook alleging that a child was abused by staff at A Shining Star Learning Center in Normal. Police say Danyus knew those allegations were false and repeated them to investigators.
While Danyus faces charges, the episode left Shining Star paralyzed. Police asked its staff not to respond publicly until an arrest was made, and they complied. That silence was difficult. Ultimately, seven children were pulled out of the day care, some presumably due to their parents' safety concerns.
“It’s been very traumatic for us as a business, and it’s been very frustrating too. We felt in our heart that nothing happened at the center itself. From an outside perspective looking in, it probably looked like we weren’t stating what was going on, but we felt we needed to be cooperative with authorities who were completing an investigation,” said Shining Star executive director Jyl Waller.
The Aug. 27 Facebook post spread quickly, garnering more than 500 shares, Waller said. The following Monday, Shining Star fielded several calls from concerned parents and staff.
“Everybody believed it. And you can’t believe what’s on Facebook. You have to really know your facts,” Waller said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “And from that point on, we had a lot of people doubting the care that we were giving their children.”
Waller’s staff bit their tongue except for a vague Facebook post Aug. 28:
“The administrators are well aware of the rumors going around about the center. We want to let everyone know parents are welcome to stop by anytime and speak with staff or visit their child's classroom. Your children's safety is our #1 priority!”
The allegations meant that five Shining Star staff were subjected to close DCFS supervision until the matter was resolved. That happened Sept. 5 with the arrest of Danyus.
“It was a huge relief,” Waller said of the arrest. (Danyus faces two Class 4 felony charges. She’s due back in court for arraignment on Sept. 15.)
Normal Police went out of its way to exonerate Shining Star in its press release about Danyus’ arrest, sent to the media on Sept. 6.
“A Shining Star Learning Center fully and immediately cooperated with Detectives so this case could be investigated and have been cleared of any wrongdoing,” police said.
That was included in part because Shining Star was receiving “harassing-type phone calls” about the allegations, said Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner. While “it’s certainly not part of our mission” to do damage control for local businesses, it made sense in this case, Bleichner said.
“Because I felt that company had been an intentional or unintended victim, I felt it would be reasonable to include that information in the media release,” Bleichner said. “Their business … did see some harm as a result of that false statement that was posted out there.”
Some large companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on social media monitoring, looking to deflect problems that bubble up during customer-service interactions, said Nate Carpenter, director of convergent media at Illinois State University’s School of Communication. He also directs the school’s Social Media Analytics Command Center.
It's important for smaller businesses—lacking the huge social media budget—to cultivate and nurture their own social media communities so that those brand advocates can step in when disaster strikes, Carpenter said. ISU students studying social media are taught not to “feed the trolls” (harsh online critics) and instead let your community step in, he said.
“It’s like nature taking its course,” Carpenter said. “And that’s why it’s so important to build these solid relationships in the social web. Not only will they get positive attention, they will get a community of people who will step in and support them when they need it.”
Waller’s advice to other small businesses facing reputation threats online? “It’s difficult to hold back and not say what you want to say, but you have to keep it professional,” Waller said.
"You just have to be careful what you put out there."
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