Last week the North Country This Week paper published a front page headline story about the Democratic candidate for DA in St. Lawrence County. The headline read: “DA hopeful will not confirm post”.

The paper had received a screenshot of Facebook posts that had allegedly been posted to one Valerie Ann Viers-DeMaio’s Facebook page the day after the Presidential election last November. Here’s the screenshot as I found it on the paper’s website, NorthContryNow.com:

Facebook Screenshot

I found 2 articles on the paper’s website: the one that appeared in print, and a second with the screenshot.

Here’s the conundrum:

On one hand, the screenshot looks fake. Those are not Facebook fonts or text and image alignments. Facebook comments also have a shaded background and the order of the comment meta line should be: “Like • Reply • [time-stamp]”, not “[time-stamp] • Like”.

So to me, the screenshot reeks of the kind of mistakes email spammers make when they send you an email purporting to be from PayPal or Bank of America, where things are just enough “off” to let you know it’s probably not legit. The article’s author, Jimmy Lawton, doesn’t go into whether and how he verified the screenshot. I wish he had. All we know is “DeMaio says she reported the incident to Facebook after it occurred and it was later removed.” So I guess, except for this screenshot, the evidence is gone.

On looking at the metadata attached to the image I downloaded from the paper, I find the following:

So the image posted on the paper’s website was created in Adobe Photoshop CS6. If the image were a screenshot, as is claimed, I’d expect to find image metadata like this:

But what we don’t know (we could ask the paper) is whether they posted what they were given, or whether it’s the paper’s own image generated in Photoshop by the news room from the originals. If this is the original then the Photoshop creation stamp rather than a screenshot app stamp of some sort makes me think this is a hoax from a Trump supporter sabotaging the election. And, if so, it likely worked.

On the other hand, Monroe is not denying having made the statements. He’s just saying he doesn’t recall writing it and can’t find the comment on his Facebook feed. Instead he makes apologies to anyone it may have offended. It’s the kind of response that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

If he really doesn’t share the sentiment of the reported posts to the point where he can be certain he didn’t write something along the same line as what was reported, why can’t he say so? Wanting to appear to take the high ground by making an apology for something he’s not sure he’s done was a lousy campaign decision. He could have taken the high ground by simply denying it.

“No, I didn’t write that. I don’t think that. I would never in a thousand years say that, and if she has real evidence, and can show you the actual Facebook entry that I did, she should produce it. Now let’s move on.” That would have been much more convincing.

What to do? The screenshot, to a geek like me, looks really, really fake. But the candidate isn’t saying it’s not – rather, in essence, “It might have happened” – which is the kind of response my teenager has taught me to be very suspicious of.

How should I vote on Tuesday? I’m thinking a last minute write-in candidacy might be in order. Of course, I don’t have any qualifications for being a DA. But then again, neither does the person who has had that job for the past few years.

Addendum:

A little more hunting around, and I found this quote from Ms. DeMaio-Viers to the Ogdensburg Journal:

“He knows he wrote it, because that is his handwriting,” Mrs. DeMaio-Viers said when asked about the nature of the font. “Those screenshots are valid. They are true and that is what he did. That’s what he said and that is what he wrote on my page.”

So, that about clinches it. Anyone who thinks that Facebook comments appear in someone’s own handwriting… well, there’s dumb and dumber.

I’m not sure how otherwise legitimate news agencies would give it a second thought as newsworthy, or why Monroe’s campaign didn’t respond more effectively to something so easily discredited. So now the question is whether he’s able to discern what is good or bad evidence. One wonders whether he’s any more qualified than I am for the position.