Is the story of little Victoria Wilcher being asked to leave a KFC restaurant in Mississippi actually a hoax? After a social media hailstorm last week it appears that the story may be fabricated — and people are upset. When a story tugs at our heartstrings like this one did, then turns out to be inaccurate, does it change our perceptions of others in need?
Photo credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The story was all over the news and social media last week. A 3-year-old girl, whose face is scarred and disfigured from a dog attack earlier this year, was allegedly asked by an employee to leave a KFC restaurant because her face was disturbing the other customers. The story hit social media and people were outraged, quickly jumping on the anti-KFC bandwagon and protesting her treatment at the restaurant. Donations and offers of support started pouring in to Victoria's Facebook fan page and a Go Fund Me page started by her aunt. But an investigation into the matter has found no evidence that Victoria and her grandmother were ever in the KFC in question on that particular day. Sources close to the investigation tell the Laurel Leader-Call that the story may be a hoax — and a new social media frenzy has launched.

The aftermath

In the wake of the news that this story may actually be a hoax, there are two reactions from most people on social media. Many people now say they knew it was a hoax from the start, yet many others were swept up in the original story and were drawn to make monetary donations toward Victoria's medical care. People are angry and are leaving nasty comments on Victoria's Facebook fan page directed toward her grandmother and aunt. With the same intensity they attacked KFC through social media, people are now attacking Victoria's family for perpetrating this alleged hoax.

But still, a little girl is hurting

At the heart of the incident is the fact that Victoria is still in need of continued medical care for her injuries sustained in the dog attack back in April. She suffered several broken bones in the attack, has serious facial scarring and has a feeding tube to assist her with eating. While her attack by pit bulls at her grandfather's house probably caused quite a stir in her local community, she didn't garner national attention until the KFC story hit the media. A 3-year-old brutally attacked by three pit bulls is a heart-wrenching story in itself, and may have created a similar social media response and monetary donations if it had gone viral back in April.

Compassion and kindness

When I wrote last week about the alleged incident at KFC, my heart told me that the most important thing about this case was the little girl. Whether the story was fabricated or true — or even a little bit of both — in the middle of it all is a sweet little girl with a scarred face, who will be faced with more medical procedures in the future. As moms we are charged with teaching our children to be compassionate toward others, and especially cognizant of those who may have a different appearance due to injury or disability. When we model these values for our children, we are showing them that kindness and empathy are important character traits. But what happens when our kindness was misguided? "I was so angry that this story was actually not true," shares one mother of three. "But that little girl still needs our kindness, and this is not her fault." In this particular case we can still have compassion for young Victoria even when we are angry that the story about the KFC encounter may be a hoax.

Why we want to believe

It's human nature to be drawn in to these stories, and with the huge reach of social media a story that would have stayed local 10 years ago can now have a worldwide following. Much as in the case of Lacey Spears, the mother who concocted an incredible string of fabrications through her online persona and wound up killing her young son, we are outraged when we realize we fell for a story that wasn't true. Many people say that they are now somewhat jaded by these stories, and tend not to believe them at all when they first hit social media.

Dr. Simon Rego is director of psychology training at the Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He shares his thoughts on why these cases tend to take off. "I see three main reasons for this," he shares. "Internet hoaxes tend to play on our common fears (e.g., 'Better to be safe than sorry!'), capitalize on our desire to do good for others (e.g., 'I'll send this to all my friends and family, just in case!') and ease of dissemination (i.e., you just have to hit 'forward to all' and you're done)."

Yet for all of these stories that create a social media frenzy, then turn out to be untrue, there are so many stories of struggle and pain, of battling cancer or injustice or family tragedy. Within our AllParenting family of writers, editors and formatters we have personally watched several of our colleagues fight with everything they have to beat cancer in their families. Through Facebook pages and updates we have been able to follow their progress, cheer them on in rough times and celebrate (virtually) when a treatment ends or is successful. We share statuses, ask for prayers or good thoughts, leave notes of encouragement and offer support when these people need it most. And watching an internet community rally around someone in need may just make us all feel a little bit better about people.

So while I initially always wonder if these stories are true or fabricated, I will probably still err on the side of believing and hoping. Because beneath every story is a person who just may need a little bit more understanding.

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