‘Fake news’: Prom revenge murder story on TikTok debunked

In this photo illustration, the TikTok app is seen on a phone on March 13, 2024 in New York City. (Photo Illustration by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

A news story about a revenge killing at a high school prom was found to be completely fake after making its rounds on TikTok. 

The news story was about a murder that allegedly occurred in Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. 

FOX 2 Detroit reported the TikTok video claimed a man named Douglass Barnes killed a teen girl named Samantha McCaffery as revenge for Samantha's cop father, Mike McCaffery, killing Barnes's son several years ago. 

However, the story was quickly found to be fake once the basic details were investigated: 

  • The school where the prom was said to have happened, Livonia High School, does not exist in Michigan. 
  • No person named Douglass Barnes lives in the state of Michigan. 
  • A reverse-image search for the mugshot only pulls up stories about the fake murder, suggesting that the image itself may be AI-generated.
  • Livonia Police confirmed to FOX 2 it was "fake news going around on social media" and the case was not going on in the city. 

READ MORE: Livonia prom revenge murder story is fake news, police say

Fake news generator

Countless sites provide the ability to create a fake news story. Anyone can plug in their made-up content, use an image (real or fake), and get a custom URL to appear as a legitimate news source. 

The people who make fake news usually do it to make money by running ads, according to Common Sense Media, an American nonprofit that analyzes media and technology. 

The more unusual, salacious or outrageous the story, the more likely it is that someone won’t be able to resist the click – hence the term "clickbait." And the more clicks a story gets, the more money it makes.

How to spot fake news

Being vigilant when consuming information online is an important part of combating fake and AI-generated news

If you see a story online, be skeptical and check the source. 

If you do not recognize the source as a legitimate news outlet, search for the story. In the case of the prom murder, one story did come up on Google, but it was from a news site that is not real and does not include where the website is based - a sign it may not be reliable.

Also look for strange or incorrect spelling, grammar or punctuation. 

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AI image generator 

Fake images can be hard to spot. AI image generators create images based on prompts, or instructions, given by the creator. 

One way to test the authenticity of an image is to do a reverse image search, as in the case of the Livonia prom murder mugshot. 

A reverse image search works backwards, so to speak, and will reveal where the photo exists elsewhere in the world or on the internet. You can do this with Google by uploading the photo you're questioning, or pasting the link to its URL. 

Also, as in the case of the Livonia prom murder mugshot, you can run an image through an AI detector, which will analyze patterns in the pixels. 

Various AI detector versions exist online and may determine different results, especially depending on the size and quality of the image. Test a few and see what the consensus seems to be. 

This story was reported from Detroit. FOX 2’s Amber Ainsworth contributed.