As temperatures in Minneapolis plummeted below zero on Sunday, word spread on Twitter that the Minnesota Vikings would open their 66,000-seat indoor stadium for the city’s homeless to take shelter for the night.
Local blogger Jake Nyberg was the first to post about the plan.
“As homeless in Mpls face record cold, @Vikings offer to open ‘The People’s Stadium’ overnight,” Nyberg wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted.
“It’s a proud night to be a @Vikings fan and a Minnesotan,” he said in another.
Before long, the story erupted. The verified account of a user named David Dellanave posted about it, drawing thousands of retweets and likes. Multiple news outlets, some citing Dellanave’s tweet, published articles about the supposed homeless shelter plan, among them CBS and Yahoo Sports.
By Monday, though, the feel-good rumor about the city helping its neediest residents had transmogrified into the latest case study on how fake news goes viral.
Nyberg admitted he made the whole thing up. Dellanave conceded he was in on the hoax. Nyberg has since deactivated his Twitter account, and the two men have apologized, saying their intent was to shame the Vikings into addressing homelessness in the city.
“In hindsight, I chose a stupid and shortsighted way to bring attention to what I believe is a worthwhile question — whether it might make sense for a large, warm, publicly funded building to be opened to those experiencing homelessness on a very cold night,” Nyberg told Minnesota Public Radio. “This obviously backfired. I regret it and sincerely apologize.”
Dellanave, too, was contrite.
But forgiveness does not come easy just weeks after fake news drove an armed man to storm a pizza restaurant looking for fictitious child sex slaves, and it may have even played a role in the presidential election.
Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio called the hoax “a really bad idea that risked harm to the Twin Cities’ homeless population and destroyed their own credibility in the process.” In a column Sunday, Collins chided Nyberg and Dellanave for refusing to apologize when other users started calling out their lies.
“Twitter turned on the two, who multiplied their original sin by committing another one any novice on Twitter would know: When you’re caught, just say you’re sorry,” he wrote. “Instead, they grew combative against the universal online condemnation.”
Barry Petchesky of Deadspin noted that even if the taxpayer-funded stadium were to have opened its doors to homeless people for the night, it wouldn’t have been staffed or equipped to house them.
“It’s awful that there’s not enough funding to keep city shelters open longer, and that cold-weather outreach is conducted largely by private groups, when lawmakers were able to come up with $500 million in taxpayer money to give to the Vikings,” Petchesky wrote. “But fooling people and humiliating them for sharing fake news is not the way to get them on your side in any discussion.”
Plenty of others joined the pile-on:
The Vikings, who played a noon game at home Sunday, did not respond publicly to the hoax. In a statement, the team told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “It is unfortunate that individuals chose to use a significant issue to deliberately deceive the public.”
U.S. Bank Stadium’s operator, Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, said no one showed up Sunday night looking for a place to sleep. Providing shelter, the organization told local media, “requires a unique set of resources and skills and there are many great facilities in the metro area that provide these services.”