A social media prank concocted by a Louisiana police department over the weekend went unexpectedly viral and began being taken seriously by some, forcing the officers to clarify that—actually—local stockpiles of methamphetamine weren’t tainted with the Zika virus.
As reported by The Advocate, the Harahan Police Department crafted one hell of a Facebook post on Saturday. The post warned users that any meth bought in the state could be contaminated with Zika, and that anyone concerned should please call their local police department to get their meth tested—free of charge! Those who might understandably be shy about bringing their meth to a police station could instead have an officer visit their home and test it right there, the Facebook post added.
The still-live post went viral, amassing hundreds of thousands of views. And while plenty of people likely suspected something was off, others didn’t. At least one local news outlet uncritically reported the warning, noting that police departments in other states had made similar offers.
On Sunday, Harahan police chief Tim Walker fessed up, telling local newspaper The Advocate that the post wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The department was indeed copying word-for-word the antics of other police departments. In some of those cases, though, the police did at least bother to include a disclaimer explaining the joke.
The outgoing Harahan mayor, Tina Miceli, wasn’t so amused by the post, regardless of it being satire.
“I am concerned about the information that is disseminated to the community and our surrounding communities, and how they are getting their information. I don’t want residents afraid without having information,” said Miceli, The Advocate reported.
Zika is spread through mosquitoes or, more rarely, through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids like semen and blood. The disease also isn’t dangerous to most people who are exposed to it, and usually causes only flu-like symptoms in the small percentage of people who became sick from it. But pregnant women who catch Zika early in their pregnancy are at increased risk of having children with severe, lifelong birth defects, including microcephaly.
That said, it’s not necessarily a huge stretch for people to have taken the Harahan Police Department’s “warning” at face value. Street drugs are often tainted with hidden things that can be dangerous, including potent opioids and rat poison. And meth can be injected, raising the risk of bloodborne diseases being spread between people if contaminated needles are shared.
It doesn’t seem as though the post earned the Harahan Police Department anything more than some viral notoriety; Walker told The Advocate that, so far at least, no one has taken up the offer to have their meth tested.