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How a tweet about my son launched a human trafficking investigation

This time last week, I was the subject of a human trafficking investigation.

There’s no punchline. This was real life.

The saga began when a caseworker and supervisor from Child Protection Services dropped by my office with a Lafayette County sheriff’s deputy. You know, a typical Monday afternoon.

They told me an anonymous male tipster called Mississippi’s child abuse hotline days earlier to report me for attempting to sell my 3-year-old son, citing a history of mental illness that probably drove me to do it.

Beyond notifying me of the charges, they said I’d have to take my son out of school so they could see him and talk to him that day, presumably protocol to ensure children aren’t in immediate danger. So I went to his preschool, pulled my son out of a deep sleep during naptime, and did everything in my power not to cry in front of him on the drive back to my office.

Now let’s back up.

As many of my readers and social media followers know, I’ve been quoting my adorable son on Twitter since he was two. He says the sassiest, smartest, most ridiculous things when I least expect it, and it’s one of my favorite things about him (and parenting, in general). I’ve written about it a handful of times before and am always so tickled by how many people keep up with our mother-son adventures.

A day or so before the anonymous caller contacted authorities, I tweeted a funny conversation I had with him about using the potty, followed by an equally-as-funny offer to my followers: 3-year-old for sale. $12 or best offer.

That tweet was what the caller used as evidence that I was a threat to the well-being of my child. And it was that tweet that sparked the most hellish week of my life as I prepared for a home visit in which my case worker would inspect my home and the possibility of more interviews with my son. All because enough people believed I was actually trying to sell my son on Twitter for $12.

CPS has a hard job, both in the nature of what they do and the day-to-day demands of handling each case. As I shared with my followers Sunday night, it would be easy to read this and assume I’m upset with them, which couldn’t be more untrue. Everyone has a job to do, and I don’t blame them for doing what they felt they had to do in this case.

In the end, I worked with a fantastic attorney, who was able to get the case dropped in a matter of days. While no one knows who made the call (though CPS protects the anonymity of informants, this person refused to leave any contact info and isn’t required to do so), it’s hard to look at this as an innocent misunderstanding or someone who doesn’t understand humor.

I have no proof it was a targeted attack, but enemies come with the territory in this business. It seems unimaginable that someone would despise my opinions on flags and statues so much that the only answer is to harm my family, but in some ways, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

I considered keeping this story to myself because of its personal nature. But as with anything else I’ve written about my life, I do it in situations when I feel like it could help someone else dealing with similar struggles. It is one thing to come after me, a grown adult woman who enthusiastically signed up for a career that comes with a large amount of exposure and criticism. Coming after my son is utterly despicable.

What upsets me more is the idea of anyone using an agency designed to protect Mississippi’s most vulnerable children as a weapon to take someone down for no legitimate reason. Time and resources that should have been spent on children and families who genuinely need it were instead dedicated to a tweet, and all because someone out there probably got bent out of shape that I don’t see the world the way he does.

Mississippi is obligated to empower CPS with the resources needed to do its job. That means putting measures in place to ensure people can’t use their services as means to attack innocent families.

It also means making sure there are clear, enforceable consequences for those who do.

About the Author /

alex.mcdaniel@magnoliastatelive.com

Alex McDaniel is the director of content and audience development for Magnolia State Live. She's also the editorial director at Oxford Newsmedia, where she oversees The Oxford Eagle, Oxford Magazine and several other publications.

Comments(66)

  • Paige Cannon

    October 3, 2017

    Wow! Bless you for going through that! #ToughestMomAward I literally cannot believe my eyes as I am reading this. I am praying for you to have a less awful rest of the month!! Geez!!! People do not understand humor.

    • Mary

      October 15, 2017

      Alex became the victim of her own policies. Undoubtedly, before this incident, Alex was a big supporter of intrusive gov’t investigations into people’s childraising regardless of the significance or the source of the evidence. Physicians regularly report the parents of children who hurt themselves while playing and divorced parents report the other parent to CPS, and liberals use CPS to persecute parents of homeschooled children, and the false reporters are NEVER prosecuted. I am glad this problem that traumatizes so many 100s of thousands of parents each year is brought to light by Alex McDaniel.

  • Scot Jenkins

    October 3, 2017

    So, a complainant or a bureaucrat with almost limitless discretion and zero accountability twisted the interpretation of a subjective regulation to suit their own ideological proclivities? Could (and may likely) be that once the complaint is registered, the official had no choice but to pursue it, i.e., no discretion is allowed.

    Sucks, doesn’t it?

    I’m not kidding. I get that it was unwarranted, and I hope there are corrective measures taken.

    There won’t be, most likely.

    THIS is why conservatives hate excessive and amorphous regulation. They invite abuse and leave little recourse.

    • RE Almanace

      October 10, 2017

      OOOOH! An expert on Conservatives!!!!

    • Jan Sutton

      October 16, 2017

      True. They are very close to abuse of power with no consequences to them.

  • Scot Jenkins

    October 3, 2017

    I contradicted myself on the discretion issue for the official. My experience is that it can be all over the board, though, so maybe I didn’t screw up too badly.

  • Biba

    October 3, 2017

    Oh my! I am so sorry you went thru this. I know personally how you are a most loving and caring person.

  • Jeannie

    October 3, 2017

    I had someone anonymously call CPS on me stating I neglected my child because I bought a new car. I did purchase a new car but only after I went through 6 vehicles in 2 years due to buying low prices vehicles and not getting anyone to mechanically check them out first. So after my previous ride kept dying on me in the dead center of a mississippi summer day with my barely 3 month old in the hot car with me, I bought a new one. People are just evil. I’ve come to expect it in life. But karma is a beast and I firmly believe evil will meet its judge one day.

    • RE Almanace

      October 10, 2017

      Low priced car and NO mechanic to check it out? Just a waste of money — think AHEAD before you do something like that again.

      • Mary

        October 15, 2017

        You missed Jennie’s point, that this was not child abuse, and that CPS is used as a tool by vindictive people.

      • allonym

        October 20, 2017

        Yeah, poor people. You should have enough money and time to have a mechanic check out every car before you buy it. Or failing that, simply take public transit to work, leaving you less time to spend with your children until you can afford to live with the rest of us!

        Perhaps we should think AHEAD before writing something like this again?

  • Anonymous

    October 4, 2017

    I miss so sorry you had to go through this Alex!

  • Anonymous

    October 9, 2017

    Ever think of just leaving the stupid details of your personal life off the internet? We really don’t care. Ever think what your son may have to deal with later in life because you made the choice for him to make his life part of a permanent public record?

    • Anonymous

      October 10, 2017

      Really? You must be kidding. She is in no way to blame for this stupidity.

      • RE Almanace

        October 10, 2017

        Yes she is– THNK before you put something online that could easily be misconstrued

        • momsunshackled

          October 11, 2017

          We have First Amendment rights in our country. We should not have to live like North Korea and be afraid of speaking on the internet. Succumbing to this sort of government infringement is very un-American of you.

        • Anonymous

          October 12, 2017

          Wouldn’t be surprised if it was you who called CPS.

    • momsunshackled

      October 11, 2017

      This is a problem with our government rewarding CPS for conducting these “investigations”. This is not a parent problem. CPS was an issue before social media came out. Why are you blaming the parent? Your tax dollars fund this fraud.

    • Andy Vater

      October 31, 2017

      I bet you’re a riot at parties. Go away.

  • Anonymous

    October 9, 2017

    There are ways to share with just family and friends that you actually know rather then blasting this stuff all over an internet filled with all sorts of wacko people. I don’t feel sorry for anyone who shares such silly details of their life with the public. It’s the downside of anti-social media.

    • momsunshackled

      October 11, 2017

      It’s astonishing how many people are supporting CPS in this. Sharing funny stories about our children is not against the law. We have free speech rights. When people start faulting people for exercising a fundamental right, we are slowly allowing our rights to be stripped away. This could happen to any parent.

  • Mitch

    October 9, 2017

    Conservatives are awesome at blaming “the system” for acts perpetrated by a sick individual…..when it suits their purposes.

    • RE Almanace

      October 10, 2017

      And here you are, blaming Conservatives.

      • allonym

        October 20, 2017

        Let’s THINK. There was no blaming of Conservatives in that comment.

  • Cat Rol

    October 9, 2017

    I don’t agree with the spite with which some people have taken you to task for sharing details of yoru personal life. And, I do agree with the spirit of their criticism. If you are going to do your public social media work then keep your young child out of it, cute or not. Despicable as it is, people who want to hurt you will find a way. And, remember that your class and racial privilige affords you all kinds of advantages and protections that poor people or POCs wouldn’t have. I thank you for not throwing CPS under the bus as they do have a tough job and all reports must be investigated.

    • momsunshackled

      October 11, 2017

      That’s not true. They need a warrant to investigate. Parents often submit to searches and agree to be questioned – making CPS jobs a piece of cake. Parents voluntarily give up their rights. If CPS came to my home questioning me about anything, I would tell them to get a warrant. I don’t care if they want to stop by and investigate a pebble in my driveway. They won’t get a single word out of me. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and I guarantee CPS’s case load will suddenly dwindle to only the serious crimes.

  • Anonymous

    October 9, 2017

    If you don’t care then please, do tell why you felt the obligation to read it her post in the first place?

    People who don’t care about something, generally ignore what they DO NOT care about.

    People who enjoy manufacturing hate or disgruntlement onto others are typically unhappy somewhere deep within themselves and refuse to acknowledge such unhappiness as a way to suppress that hurt/anger/disappointment.

    Hurt people hurt others but are ultimately only hurting themselves. But as we already know, you aren’t hurt. You are just very prideful and enjoy the hurting other people part. Good luck with that.

  • Jack Spratt

    October 9, 2017

    Many men experience something similar (or worse) when embittered ex-wives (and, it is almost always wives, empirically) use resource-strained public offices (like CPS or the police) to harass their husbands during divorce proceedings with the aim of gaining advantage in court. Making fraudulent claims of child abuse or domestic battery to get restraining orders under false pretenses. That kind of thing is much more common than harassment of media figures with whom one disagrees. (Not that the “real thing” doesn’t happen—as the author of this article also allows—but it is disgraceful that some choose to abuse cash-strapped public services for personal or political aims.)

    • RE Almanace

      October 10, 2017

      Huh?
      Ah yes, the EMPIRICAL Ex-Wife.
      Talk to us, Jack…….

      • Jack Spratt

        October 10, 2017

        Yes, complaints are registered by the government; there are records and, thus, empirical facts, not just impressionistic, anecdotal evidence of embittered ex-husbands.

        • Anonymous

          October 11, 2017

          Jack is partly correct. My ex and his new wife filed a false claim against me with CPS because he wanted custody and did not want to pay child support. CPS is used as a weapon by people to exact revenge and obtain leverage in court. It is not just ex-wifes who use the system inappropriately. CPS is also out-of-control. They have way too much power and not enough oversight. Their opinions are too subjective and often times irrational.

  • Dennis

    October 9, 2017

    What’s funny is what you were accused of actually does occur in the real world. Maybe someone heard a horrible story of this happening elsewhere and felt obligated to do something as we are taught now. See something-say something. The irony is when things like this happen, your first reaction would probably be how can something like this happen without anyone knowing. It does happen in the real world. So instead of crying about being a victim of the system, you should be happy it works. Your are the one to blame for your sorrows because of your need of social media attention and getting it by posting everything about your life to anyone who will listen. If anything, you should be more protective of your son by not being so detailed about him to everyone. You never know who’s reading your posts. Stop crying and reap exactly what you sowed.

    • momsunshackled

      October 11, 2017

      You are wrong.

  • Jewish and Proud

    October 9, 2017

    I have no sympathy for you. You support the destruction of historic monuments and are so politically-correct you think state flags should be censored.

  • Anonymous

    October 9, 2017

    There are innumerable what if scenarios that could account for motive on behalf of whoever submitted the complaint. However the only real fact is that you posted that your son was for sale for $12.00 or best offer onto a public forum for the world to see. I struggle that you are the one who feels like a victim when you put something on social media that implies that your son’s life is only worth $12.00.

    Perhaps it would be good to reflect on all of the human trafficking before you post something wth such insensitive jest on the internet. To suppose that your comments should go unchecked and your meaning implied is what really strikes me as problematic. Intent vs. impact. Your words matter, especially as someone who uses words for a living.

    To politicize a personal mistake you made on your part or to assume that someone did due diligence to spite your political stances is so unbelievably privileged and self centered it blows my mind. Your go to response is that someone is targeting you, not that you should have chosen your words differently. I only feel bad for your son in this case. 1) He is too young to give consent to have his presence broadcast online in the first place, 2) his caretaker seems more concerned about promoting political agenda and professional stance (a victim of a targeted political attack?) than about taking responsibility for her own words.

    Perhaps a piece reflecting on questionable word choice and the importance of using words responsibly in today’s society would have been more appropriate using your experience as a gateway to open dialogue. Or the very real issue of human trafficking and how this experience opened your eyes to the reality that some people deal with every day.

    Seeing privileged-laced pieces like this bother me when so many more important topics could be covered instead of playing into the mindset that you are a political victim.

    • Anonymous

      October 11, 2017

      Well said! Dear Mrs. McDaniel, please take this moment to learn your lesson and look inside of yourself to check your motivation with everything.

    • Mary

      October 15, 2017

      Someone decided to teach Alex a lesson about her support for intrusive gov’t investigations in general, not necessarily limited to just her support for statue-removal and flag censorship. Alex became the victim of her own policies. I hope Alex got a taste of the pain that others have felt when persecuted by the state for being conservative, such as the bakers who were fined over $100,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a homosexual fake wedding, or people who are arrested for praying outside abortion facilities while on sidewalks. Alex doesn’t learn the terrible power of gov’t investigations, then she probably deserves more intrusive gov’t. investigations. The power of gov’t needs to be limited in all criminal investigations.

      BTW – does anyone else here know that 92% of detectives claim that they use false evidence during interrogations to coerce (http://www.thejuryexpert.com/2010/11/police-deception-during-interrogation-and-its-surprising-influence-on-jurors-perceptions-of-confession-evidence/

      And the U.S. Supreme Court has given them permission to lie:

      Sorrells v. U.S.
      U.S. v. Russell

    • Jan Sutton

      October 16, 2017

      $12 for a child is an obvious joke. I’m a conservative and I got it, although I didn’t see the original post. I understand why it would be unwise to criticize the child protection people, but I really have to wonder just how dense these people are!!! And she had to hire an attorney for this???

  • RE Almanace

    October 10, 2017

    Wow — THINK about what you are sending out on the airwaves, lady — BEFORE you punch the SEND button!! I feel no sympathy for your so-called (but self inflicted) plight!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    October 10, 2017

    While it is sad that anyone would have to go through this, be careful about assigning blame. You said at the end of your article “that I don’t see the world the way HE does.” (emphasis added). How do you know it was a man?

    • RE Almanace

      October 10, 2017

      So true. I think some Mommies also need to get a backbone.

  • Chris Boyd

    October 10, 2017

    Obvious that some would be Rebel soldier who is still mad that they got their asses KICKED a hundred and fifty years ago decided this would be good revenge for someone taking away his precious statues. Stupid white trash is as stupid white trash does.

    • Scot Jenkins

      October 10, 2017

      Where do you see this, or are you just making prejudiced assumptions?

      Honestly, people, can everyone just stop with the insults, especially when there is no evidence that your specific claim is valid?

  • Scot Jenkins

    October 10, 2017

    Where do you see this, or are you just making prejudiced assumptions?

    Honestly, people, can everyone just stop with the insults, especially when there is no evidence that your specific claim is valid?

  • Anonymous

    October 10, 2017

    How lucky is your child that someone cared enough about his well being to make that call to make sure he was safe? Why is it cute or funny to even joke about something so serious? You put that out for the entire world to see, and get upset that everyone doesn’t think like you… interesting.

  • Anonymous

    October 10, 2017

    You didn’t tweet about your son. You tweeted that you were selling your son. BIG difference.

  • Anonymous

    October 10, 2017

    Here’s an idea…stop posting every single thing in our lives on social media and these things wouldn’t happen.

  • momsunshackled

    October 11, 2017

    Did they have a warrant to search your house and speak to your son? If not, you should not have allowed them to “investigate”. If you told them to get a signed warrant showing probable cause, they may have left you alone. CPS is awful. Thanks for telling us your story!

  • test

    October 12, 2017

    I guess we’ll never know for sure, but can you guess the politics of the person you reported you?
    Hints:
    -Doesn’t see the humor in joking about your kid.
    -Likely to be reading an article by a fellow liberal
    -Way too concerned about how other people parent.

    I suppose it’s possible someone conservative tried to lash out at you for your viewpoint, but it’s far more likely it was a friend of a friend who shares your worldview that found their way to your Twitter page.

    Either way, you should be mindful of the consequences of commingling your kid with political posts. It’s not exactly consensual.

  • Greg Grider

    October 12, 2017

    If this ever happened to me and my kid, God help whoever started this if I ever found out who he was.
    He and I would have a serious problem; he would NOT like the way it got solved!
    The lesson learned here- Stay away from Social Media- It is good to Trust; it is better to not need to.

  • Devon Cook

    October 12, 2017

    “…all because someone out there probably got bent out of shape that I don’t see the world the way he does.”

    A very big and very sexist assumption you’ve made here. Or, to use a definition more suited to what I assume (I can do it too) is your way of thinking, a sexually biased assumption…since we can’t be sexist toward men.

    You wrote a long, self-pitying article carefully avoiding blaming anyone so you would come across as a shining example of saintly motherhood being harassed by the right wing, and fucked up in almost the last paragraph by revealing your true beliefs: you clearly assume it must have been a bitter MAN who just couldn’t stand your strong self.

    Ever think that maybe it was one of the very large percentage of white women who voted for Trump? Perhaps it actually was an overly concerned liberal. I’ve been reported and banned from Facebook, not for bullying people, but for saying I have in the past insulted someone for being an idiot.

    Come on. If you seriously immediately assume this must be some embittered male stereotype out to get you, no damned wonder someone out there thinks you’re crazy.

  • HispanicWoman

    October 12, 2017

    As a minority woman with a master’s degree, and a mom of 3, I completely agree with the fact that you need to woman up and own your mistakes. I disagree with your take on the situation. For instance, (1) why do you assume that someone is attacking you? Maybe some kind human being just doesn’t get your careless sense of humor. It is your fault that you did not write something to qualify your sentence as a joke (something like just kidding). Also (2) you assume that the person is attacking you for political reasons. I think no one really knows who you are, and it is just so self-centered that you assume that everyone who reads your posts actually cares or remembers you. Yes, you might have a large amount of followers, but you are no Taylor Swift darling. Your “large” amount of followers is probably really insignificant. In addition to all the other critiques above, (3) I want to reiterate that your carelessness is impressive. How could you not stop for a second to ponder, consider, that when releasing written words into social media your words can actually have an effect in real life? Hopefully you will now be a better mom and think about your son a little more than just a tool for your political agenda. Finally, I have met men who are better fathers than you are mother,

  • Anonymous

    October 13, 2017

    CPS is in need of deep reform across the county. The fact that you had to get a (good) lawyer to get them to drop the charge in what should be an easy open and shut case is obscene. What if you were poor and couldn’t afford a lawyer and you were a single mom who lived in a small messy trailer which may not have be up to code for whatever the standards of child rearing are nowadays. Would you suddenly be at risk of losing custody of your child to the foster system where they are at exponentially higher risk of being abused getting PTSD and ending up homeless or on drugs over a joke.

    CPS and the states get federal funding based on the number of ‘adoptions’ they place and if your case went to court CPS will try to win the case regardless of the truth or whatever is actually best for the child. Imagine how much of a nightmare that theoretical poor mom would have to go through trying to defend themselves in a system they don’t understand against people whose profession it is to take these cases to court. Like prosecutors caseworkers move up by winning cases and now its your word vs theirs. Now I will make a caveat and say I am sure not everyone who works for CPS is bad I’m sure there are good people there like anywhere else but everything I’m saying is true. Go lookup accounts from ex-CPS caseworkers and they explain all of this better than I ever could.

    So back to your case, you were lucky to be either wealthy or well connected enough to make this go away which and I’m happy that was the case for the sake of your child if nothing else. But instead of looking at a broken system for what it is you seem to be mad at some political enemy you imagined must be out to get you. Whether or not this is true of it was just someone elderly or dull enough not to get the joke is not important but what is is that you look into this further. You can use your experience to shine a light on this issue or help others less fortunate than you who are living this exact nightmare as we speak. I hope you do the right thing.

    • Jan Sutton

      October 16, 2017

      This is the only serious response to this situation. Otherwise, we’re just looking at very judgmental people who think $12 may be the going price for a toddler … I think you could get far more than that!

  • Sue Denim

    October 15, 2017

    For the sake of parents everywhere, you should file a negligence claim against both CPS and the person who called in the tip. At the same time, file a Freedom of Information Act request against CPS requesting that they get you the phone number for the person who called in the tip. Even if CPS did not record the phone number, they can request that information from their phone service provider. If you need leverage, you can offer to drop CPS from the lawsuit on the condition that they get the phone number you need from said service provider.

    • Mary

      October 15, 2017

      Negligence claims against the gov’t are invalid. Only Gross negligence is actionable, and a court that will find gross negligence is almost unheard of. No FOIA request will ever be honored for an anonymous tip line. The idea of a government for the people and by the people died after WWII, maybe before that.

  • Sue Denim

    October 15, 2017

    Furthermore, you cost post to your Twitter account an offer of a $1000-$5000 reward to anyone who is able to correctly identify the tipster.

  • Richard McClellan

    October 15, 2017

    My big question: did you get any offers?

    I would NEVER have offered ANY of my three old’s up for any price. Whatsoever.
    OTOH, when they were teenagers? Anything north of zero would have been a deal. Paying to take them would have been more like it.
    Joke, idiots, joke.

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