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upworthy
Democracy

It's easy to be duped by online hoaxes — so we spoke with an expert at spotting fake news.

Being able to tell truth from lies is more important than ever.

fake news, experts, social media, fact checking
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It's getting harder and harder to tell.

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Firefox

"Fake news" is more than just the phrase the president uses to brush aside stories he doesn't like. It's a real thing, and something we should all be on the lookout for.

Below is an image of Parkland student Emma González tearing up a copy of the U.S. Constitution that went viral in 2018, sending some corners of social media into a frenzy.



There was one problem, however: It was totally fake.

The actual photo came from a Teen Vogue video shoot featuring her and some of the other Parkland students. In the real clip, González is seen tearing up a paper shooting target.

fake news, Teen Vogue, gun rights, activism

Teen Vogue photo shoot goes viral.

linked image from snopes.com

The fact-check was swift, but a lot of damage was done, as the altered image continued making the rounds.

It's easy to be duped by online hoaxes — so we spoke with someone whose job it was to spot them every day.

At the time of this incident, managing editor Brooke Binkowski wrestled with the importance of truth and figuring out how to stop the spread of hoaxes every day for the highly trusted fact-checking website Snopes.

fact checking, fake news, urban legends, story, news topics

Snopes fact checks urban legends.

www.snopes.com

The site, launched in 1994, began as a collection of fact-checks on some of the internet's early urban legends. Wanted to find out whether or not that story about the killer with a hook for a hand was true? Snopes had you covered. Needed to know whether your favorite brand of bubble gum is filled with spider eggs? The answer was just one click away.

As the site evolved its taken on more serious topics, online hoaxes, and "fake news." Did Donald Trump wade into the waters of a flooded Texas city to save two cats from drowning after Hurricane Harvey? (No.) Did Barack Obama congratulate Vladimir Putin on his 2012 electoral victory? (Yes.)

Snopes is often cited alongside FactCheck.org and PolitiFact as some of the best, most accurate, and bias-free fact-checking websites in the world, even earning it a partnership with Facebook.

Binkowski spoke with Upworthy about how to deal with increasingly sophisticated hoaxes we all encounter online (and gave us a few behind-the-scenes secrets about how the people at Snopes do what they do best).

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Why does the truth matter, and what harm is there in sharing fake stories?

The truth matters because without being able to agree on the most basic facts, there is no democracy. Democracy depends on an informed, educated populace in order to survive. To actively suppress curiosity or obscure facts is to actively suppress democratic norms.

When you share fake or misleading stories, first of all, don't beat yourself up about it if you were trying not to! We all fall for it. Some of it is extremely convincing.

I strongly believe that the onus should not be on the individual to sift through all the garbage to find good, vetted news on top of every other thing they have going on in their life, as I hear many suggest — that's why journalism exists. I think people are overall extremely smart and crave information, but without vetted and transparent information, they fall for conspiracy theorizing.

That's what propaganda and disinformation seize on. If you repeat that pattern across a country, it dramatically erodes these democratic norms. Plus, have you ever tried to talk to a really entrenched conspiracy theorist?

So I would be as mindful as you can about the sources of stories and try your best not to share disinformation — and if you do, I would try to be upfront about it and delete it so that it does not spread.

Right now is a crucial time to be mindful, even though I just said the onus shouldn't be on the individual. It shouldn't, but we simply don't have enough working journalists to go around right now, because our industry has been allowed to collapse in the name of executive profit.

Can you walk us through how Snopes fact-checks a story?

We don't have any one specific way that we fact-check a story — there's no real formula for doing so. A lot of what we do is so disappointing when I describe it to people, because it's not magic. It's "just" journalism.

I try to give my writers time and space to do the research that they need to do, although sometimes it's a little difficult when we have "conspiracizing" from all sides. So sometimes, one of us will have to head to the library to pull books or go over to the local university to look through papers on campus.

A lot of the time we do old-fashioned reporting. Our staff is all over the United States and they know their stuff, so I'll take advantage of that and send them out on the field sometimes. We also, of course, know the repeat fake-news and satire offenders, so that makes it easy, because we can save a lot of time just by noting that they have an all-purpose disclaimer buried somewhere on their site. Sometimes we do photo or video forensics and FOIA requests (not that we get a lot of those answered, hahaha).


We try to be as thorough and as transparent with our work as possible, which is why we have a source list at the bottom of each page and maybe describe our methodology in a bit more detail than we should — but that's how we all roll.

Which is also why, on a side note, I find the conspiracy theories about us a bit puzzling. We're really easy to track down online, we list all our sources, and we try to be as open as humanly possible without also being boring about our methodology.

And yet people still think we're part of a grand conspiracy. I'm still waiting for my check from George Soros/the Lizard People/the Clinton Foundation, though. It's been, like, 20 years!

...OK, if you're a conspiracy theorist reading that last sentence, that's a joke. I already got my checks.

No, no, I'm sorry. I just can't stop myself.

Photo via Teen Vogue, illustration by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

What can regular, everyday people do to avoid hoaxes and "fake news?"

My best tip that I can possible give readers is this: Disinformation and propaganda classically take hold by using emotional appeals. That is why what Cambridge Analytica did should be viewed through that lens.

One of the more sinister things that I have read that they did, in my opinion (among other things I'm sure that no one yet knows), was track people who were highly susceptible to authoritarianism, then flood them with violent imagery that was invisible to everyone else on social media, so that they were always in a state of fear and emotional arousal and highly susceptible to an authoritarian message.

That's the type of person propaganda historically targets anyway — those who feel out of step with society and have strong tendencies toward authoritarianism — but now, groups like Cambridge Analytica are doing it faster and more surgically.

If you're reading, viewing, or listening to a story that's flooding you with high emotion, negative or positive — whether it's fear, rage, schadenfreude, amusement at how gullible everyone else is — check your sources. You are being played. Do a quick search for the story, see if it has been debunked at minimum, and/or look for other sources and perspectives.

One of the most noxious things about disinformation and propaganda is that both weave some truth into their lies, which makes the lies much, much stronger.

Something I like to say about political leanings is that the right assumes it has the moral upper hand and the left assumes it has the intellectual upper hand — both are tremendous weaknesses that are easy to exploit.

Don't let yourself be exploited. Be on guard. Don't assume other people are sheep and don't assume other people are morally bankrupt. Propaganda wants you to assume the worst about your fellow denizens; the people who push it out want the basic fabric of society destroyed.

It wants you hating your lovers, your neighbors, your family members, the guy at the store, the lady at the coffee shop. Propagandists want you distrusting each other, bickering, and unable to agree on the most basic facts — because then they can exploit those cracks further and consolidate power in the process.

Don't let yourself be taken in.

The basic take-aways for the average person? Get your news from trusted sources, confirm it with a second source, check your own confirmation biases, and get familiar with reverse image search tools.

This story originally appeared on 03.30.18

Science

A juice company dumped orange peels in a national park. Here's what it looks like now.

12,000 tons of food waste and 21 years later, this forest looks totally different.


In 1997, ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs approached an orange juice company in Costa Rica with an off-the-wall idea.

In exchange for donating a portion of unspoiled, forested land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste — a nature preserve in the country's northwest — the park would allow the company to dump its discarded orange peels and pulp, free of charge, in a heavily grazed, largely deforested area nearby.

One year later, one thousand trucks poured into the national park, offloading over 12,000 metric tons of sticky, mealy, orange compost onto the worn-out plot.



The site was left untouched and largely unexamined for over a decade. A sign was placed to ensure future researchers could locate and study it.

16 years later, Janzen dispatched graduate student Timothy Treuer to look for the site where the food waste was dumped.

Treuer initially set out to locate the large placard that marked the plot — and failed.

The first deposit of orange peels in 1996.

Photo by Dan Janzen.

"It's a huge sign, bright yellow lettering. We should have been able to see it," Treuer says. After wandering around for half an hour with no luck, he consulted Janzen, who gave him more detailed instructions on how to find the plot.

When he returned a week later and confirmed he was in the right place, Treuer was floored. Compared to the adjacent barren former pastureland, the site of the food waste deposit was "like night and day."

The site of the orange peel deposit (L) and adjacent pastureland (R).

Photo by Leland Werden.

"It was just hard to believe that the only difference between the two areas was a bunch of orange peels. They look like completely different ecosystems," he explains.

The area was so thick with vegetation he still could not find the sign.

Treuer and a team of researchers from Princeton University studied the site over the course of the following three years.

The results, published in the journal "Restoration Ecology," highlight just how completely the discarded fruit parts assisted the area's turnaround.

The ecologists measured various qualities of the site against an area of former pastureland immediately across the access road used to dump the orange peels two decades prior. Compared to the adjacent plot, which was dominated by a single species of tree, the site of the orange peel deposit featured two dozen species of vegetation, most thriving.

Lab technician Erik Schilling explores the newly overgrown orange peel plot.

Photo by Tim Treuer.

In addition to greater biodiversity, richer soil, and a better-developed canopy, researchers discovered a tayra (a dog-sized weasel) and a giant fig tree three feet in diameter, on the plot.

"You could have had 20 people climbing in that tree at once and it would have supported the weight no problem," says Jon Choi, co-author of the paper, who conducted much of the soil analysis. "That thing was massive."

Recent evidence suggests that secondary tropical forests — those that grow after the original inhabitants are torn down — are essential to helping slow climate change.

In a 2016 study published in Nature, researchers found that such forests absorb and store atmospheric carbon at roughly 11 times the rate of old-growth forests.

Treuer believes better management of discarded produce — like orange peels — could be key to helping these forests regrow.

In many parts of the world, rates of deforestation are increasing dramatically, sapping local soil of much-needed nutrients and, with them, the ability of ecosystems to restore themselves.

Meanwhile, much of the world is awash in nutrient-rich food waste. In the United States, up to half of all produce in the United States is discarded. Most currently ends up in landfills.

The site after a deposit of orange peels in 1998.

Photo by Dan Janzen.

"We don't want companies to go out there will-nilly just dumping their waste all over the place, but if it's scientifically driven and restorationists are involved in addition to companies, this is something I think has really high potential," Treuer says.

The next step, he believes, is to examine whether other ecosystems — dry forests, cloud forests, tropical savannas — react the same way to similar deposits.

Two years after his initial survey, Treuer returned to once again try to locate the sign marking the site.

Since his first scouting mission in 2013, Treuer had visited the plot more than 15 times. Choi had visited more than 50. Neither had spotted the original sign.

In 2015, when Treuer, with the help of the paper's senior author, David Wilcove, and Princeton Professor Rob Pringle, finally found it under a thicket of vines, the scope of the area's transformation became truly clear.

The sign after clearing away the vines.

Photo by Tim Treuer.

"It's a big honking sign," Choi emphasizes.

19 years of waiting with crossed fingers had buried it, thanks to two scientists, a flash of inspiration, and the rind of an unassuming fruit.


This article originally appeared on 08.23.17

A Taco Bell drive-thru.

Natasha Long, a mother in Pennsylvania, is calling Taco Bell Manager Becky Arbaugh her “guardian angel” after she saved her 11-month-old son who stopped breathing. Long was out running some errands with her son when she pulled into a Taco Bell drive-thru in Richboro when she realized that something was wrong.

"I ran out of the car and ran around and opened the car door," Long told ABC affiliate WPVI. "I pulled him out and he turned completely blue and was lifeless. At that point, I just completely blacked out. I didn't know what to do."

Arbaugh, who was busy working the lunch rush, heard Long call out for help. "I heard a scream, and then someone yelled out, 'Call 911, the baby isn’t breathing!'" she told Good Morning America. Arbuagh wasted no time running to Long’s aid while one of her employees dialed 911.

"I threw my headset and ran outside to the baby. The mom was panicked. I told her to give him to me and I performed CPR," Arbaugh recalled. "I was trying to calm her down and comfort her and reassure her that he will be fine."


"The baby finally started to breathe. The ambulance came pretty quickly and then they took over," Arbaugh said. "The EMT said I saved his life."

Pennsylvania Taco Bell manager helps save baby who couldn't breathe

Arbaugh, a mother of 2 boys and 2 girls, was well-versed in how to perform infant CPR and understood the importance of staying calm. "When my kids were little, my daughter had a similar incident, so I knew what she was feeling," she told WPVI. "I knew if I kept her calm and I stayed calm, there was no thought in my mind that the baby wasn't going to breathe again."

Taco Bell’s employees are proud of Arbaugh’s heroic deed. "We are incredibly proud of Becky from the Taco Bell brand’s Richboro, PA, location for her heroic act earlier this week. We are getting in touch to express appreciation for her quick actions and kindness,” the company said in a statement to People.

Since the incident, the women have been in contact with each other and are friends on Facebook. Long has been sharing pictures and videos of her son with Arbaugh to remind her of the precious life she saved. Even though Arbaugh performed the ultimate good deed, saving a baby’s life, she doesn’t consider herself a hero—just another mom looking out for her own.

"I’m just a mom helping a mom. I didn’t do anything different from what anyone else should be doing," Arbaugh told NBC. "I knew how that was, and I heard it, and I felt it instantly and I had to go and help her cause I knew it’s painful. You’re just so helpless as a mom when that happens."

This incredible story out of Pennsylvania is a reminder for every one of the importance of learning CPR. You never know when—just like Arbaugh—you may find yourself in the position to save a life.

To sign up for a class and learn how to perform CPR, visit RedCross.com.




"The baby finally started to breathe. The ambulance came pretty quickly and then they took over," Arbaugh said. "The EMT said I saved his life."

[Video]

Arbaugh, a mother of 2 boys and 2 girls, was well-versed in how to perform infant CPR and understood the importance of staying calm. "When my kids were little, my daughter had a similar incident, so I knew what she was feeling," she told WPVI. "I knew if I kept her calm and I stayed calm, there was no thought in my mind that the baby wasn't going to breathe again."

Taco Bell’s employees are proud of Arbaugh’s heroic deed. "We are incredibly proud of Becky from the Taco Bell brand’s Richboro, PA, location for her heroic act earlier this week. We are getting in touch to express appreciation for her quick actions and kindness,” the company said in a statement to People.

Since the incident, the women have been in contact with each other, becoming friends on Facebook. Long has been sharing pictures and videos of her son with Arbaugh to reminder of the precious life she saved. Even though Arbaugh performed the ultimate good deed, saving a baby’s life, she doesn’t consider herself a hero—just another mom looking out for her own.

"I’m just a mom helping a mom. I didn’t do anything different from what anyone else should be doing," Arbaugh told NBC. "I knew how that was, and I heard it, and I felt it instantly and I had to go and help her cause I knew it’s painful. You’re just so helpless as a mom when that happens."

This incredible story out of Pennsylvania is a reminder for every one of the importance of learning CPR. You never know when—just like Arbaugh—you may find yourself in the position to save a life.

To sign up for a class and learn how to perform CPR, visit RedCross.com.



Michael B. Jordan speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con International, for "Black Panther", at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

As long as humans have endeavored to do anything great, there have been those who have tried to take them down. These are the opposite of the creators in life: the bullies, haters and naysayers who only want to bring people down to their level.

But when you have a dream and desire, its easy to tune out the voices of negativity. "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Theodore Roosevelt once said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."

Some folks use the naysayers as fuel to push them to work even harder. Basketball legend Michael Jordan was infamous for letting his thirst for revenge drive him to even greater heights on the court.


Another Michael Jordan, "Black Panther" star, Michael B. Jordan, came face to face with someone who doubted that he could reach his dreams, and he wasn’t shy about letting her know that he remembered. What's Upworthy about the encounter is that he did so with class and confidence.

In 2023, Jordan was on the red carpet for the premiere of "Creed III," a film he starred in and directed. He was interviewed by “The Morning Hustle” radio show host Lore’l, who had recently admitted on the “Undressing Room” podcast that she used to make fun of him in school.

“You know what’s so crazy? I went to school with Michael B. Jordan at a point in life,” Lore’l said. “And to be honest with you, we teased him all the damn time because his name was Michael Jordan. Let’s start there, and he was no Michael Jordan.”

“He also would come to school with a headshot,” she added. “We lived in Newark. That’s the hood. We would make fun of him like, ‘What you gonna do with your stupid headshot?’ And now look at him!”

In addition, her co-host, Eva Marcille, referred to Jordan as “corny.”

Jordan had no problem discussing their past on the red carpet. “We go way back, all the way back to Chad Science [Academy] in Newark,” Lore’l told the actor. Oh yeah, I was the corny kid, right?” Jordan responded with a smirk.

“No, you did not hear me say that! I said we used to make fun of the name,” Lore’l said.

“I heard it,” Jordan said. “I heard it. It’s all good. What’s up?” he responded. “But yeah, [you are] obviously killing things out here…you’re not corny anymore,” Lore’l clarified.

After the exchange went viral, Lore’l admitted that she teased Jordan in school, but they were only classmates for one year.

“So the narrative that I bullied him all throughout high school—this was 7th grade. We were like 12 years old, and everyone made fun of each other,” Lore’l said. “That was school, you know. That was one year. And, again, I’ve never bullied him. That just sounds so outrageous to me.”

Jordan later shared some advice on how to deal with bullies.

"Just stay focused, just stay locked in,” he told a reporter from Complex. “You know, just follow your heart, try to block out the noise and distractions as much as possible and run your race. Don't compare yourself to anybody else. Just keep going."

Pop Culture

Sports? The Royal Family? Joe Rogan? 15 things people can’t believe adults take seriously.

"Sports. I get it. It's entertainment. But calm down. You aren't on the team."

Should adults take sports or Joe Rogan so seriously?

When we take a look at humanity, there are countless things we take seriously, that may not matter in the grand scheme of things. Many of us also have a soft spot for ideas that aren’t exactly scientific.

No one is perfect, and it's okay for us to take pleasure in being invested in some forms of inconsequential entertainment simply because they are fun. The trouble comes when people waste their lives and resources on ridiculous things that do more harm than good.

The key idea is that no one is immune from taking something seriously that others may think is a waste of time. But, to each their own or vive la différence as the French put it.


A Redditor who goes by the username Hogw33d asked the AskReddit forum, “What is something you can't believe real grownup people take seriously?” Many people responded that they don’t understand how some people can invest so much time and energy into things they deem frivolous.

The list was a great way for some to vent but it also provides a solid skeptics guide to some of the pitfalls we may unwillingly fall into in life.

Here are 15 things people “can’t believe” that “real grownup people take seriously.”

​1. Community theater

"This is niche but community theatre. The DRAMA among grown adults is insane, worse than when I was in high school. Like yall, we are singing and dancing and wearing silly costumes. It’s not that serious." — MediocreVideo1893

2. MLMs (multi-level marketing)

"I just don't understand how people keep falling for it. They always think that there's a difference. It's all the same pyramid scheme y'all." — IsItTurkeyNeckorDick

"I think we should take them way more seriously. They can do massive damage to a person's financial and mental health. We need to stop treating them as a cute thing that naive people get sucked into, and ban them for the scam they are." — Hydro123456

3. Flat Earthers

"I think it actually started as a sort of debating society. Just for people to practice and become better at rhetoric. But, they actually convinced some people and now, this is what we have." — Addicus

"There’s one of those apocryphal quotes that goes along the lines of, 'Any group of people that get their laughs pretending to be idiots is bound to be taken over by actual idiots who think they’ve found good company." — RilohKeen

4. Social media outrage

"Social media in general. Too many people believe every clickbait headline or buy into whatever trend is taking over. Feels like people can't self soothe and need the validation or something, it's just weird." — Cynn13

"'Outrage over Z' 'People slam Y' And it's only like a few people on Twitter or Reddit and they present it as some huge backlash or major issue lol." — Sclubadubdub

"The political news channels do almost nothing other than this. They tell viewers the other party is outraged about something that you never find a real person outraged by and create culture wars that no one is actually fighting." — Herbdontana

5. Reality TV

"It's all fake, too. An acquaintance of mine works at a major studio. Those shows are all scripted and fake." — SpaceMoneky3301967

6. Sports fans

"People take being a fan of a sport (or team) way too seriously, imo. I promise you don't need to riot because 'your team' lost." — AdmirableProgress743

"My husband works himself into such a state over something he can't control and is, imo, of absolutely no consequence to his life. He's toned it down because I told him the screaming and cursing terrorize me and our daughter. But he stews and mutters obscenities." — Complex_Yam_5390

7. Scientology

"Might as well just say every religion. They're all coocoo bonkers." — JenniferC1714

8. Gossip

"Gossip in general. I live in a small town and it is maddening how people here are so serious about it. It's not light fun chatting, it's all SCANDAL and we need to take ACTION. I swear a lot of people's problems would be immediately solved if they just stopped giving a sh*t what everyone else does (to an extent)." — Buffalopantry

9. Facebook

"My mom will literally call me up if I didn't like a recent post of hers. There have been a few times where she asked why I didn't like every photo she just posted. It's maddening. I've also had periods of deactivating my fb only for my mom to guilt me into reactivating it." — Zealousideal_Mix6771

10. Billionaire 'geniuses'

"Elon Musk and other billionaire 'geniuses.' People are pretty freaking gullible." — GladysSchwartz23

"Most average people don’t realize that being incredibly smart doesn’t automatically mean you are good at doing things like running a large company. They tend to assume people at the top must be there based on merit. In reality, there are some massively stupid people running huge companies, and there some brilliant people who are shoveling shit for a living." — Captcha_Trampstamp

11. The royal family

"I have a news app on my phone and no matter how much I tweak my interest to avoid any gossip BS I still get "Breaking News! Some insignificant bullshit about the Royals". It's not news, it's not interesting, stop reporting this utter drivel." — Sclubadubdub

12. Religion

“The creator of the universe impregnated a virgin, only to deliberately kill the child 30 years later, to save people from…himself.” — Opteryx5

"I grew up figuring everyone was just roleplaying and was shocked to learn religion is taken seriously by many people. It was a real eye-opener for someone who grew up in a secular environment." — Kilterboard_addict

13. Vaccine skeptics

"I work in medicine and am starting to get really worried about the vaccine skepticism. It used to be a little more rare, so I would counsel, they spout incorrect information, I tell give a little retort/response, and then move on because time is tight. But now it’s happening so often that I’m working way harder to persuade because I feel a strong obligation to fight all the bullshit info that has obviously taken hold." — KellyNJames

14. Loud exhaust systems on cars

"As someone who lives next to traffic lights and can hear all y'all shi**y music and loud exhausts all day... I approve this message." — Rainbow-Singbird

15. Joe Rogan

"The whole 'I’m just an idiot don’t pay any attention to what I say' schtick doesn’t really work anymore." — FoucaultsPrudendum

"It was great when he had a guest that was in academia, like a physicist or something. I would skip over most of the comedy buddy circle jerks he would host. Then when COVID happened I had to stop entirely. He fully went off the deep end then. Still, he introduced me to Dan Carlin's work, for which I am very grateful." — Xczechir

Lost girl mistakes Mariska Hargitay as a real police officer

There's not much scarier for a parent or child than to temporarily lose sight of each other. Kids do all sorts of things that they may find funny that can give their parents a mini panic attack. Nearly every person has taken their turn hiding in a clothes rack at their local department store as a child, momentarily giving your parent a fright.

But sometimes it's not just a quick break in visual contact. Sometimes parent and child find themselves separated for more than a few seconds while in public. That's when panic sets in as both parties frantically search for the other. One mom and daughter found themselves in this very scary situation while at Anne Loftus Playground in New York City while Mariska Hargitay was filming an episode of Law & Order: SVU.

The little girl spotted Hargitay dressed as her character, Olivia Benson and assumed she was an actual police officer due to her badge. Instead of redirecting the little girl to resume filming, the seasoned actor halted production to try to help.


In an interview with People before the premier of the 25th season of the hit procedural series, Hargitay reveals, “We’ve been on a parallel journey,” she said. “There’s a thing: WWOBD, ‘What would Olivia Benson do?’ The fans would always talk about it, and one day it hit me. I also have those moments where I’ve sort of slipped into her. If there’s a crisis, I just take over and lead like that. Being strong and fearless. It’s sort of this perfect feminist story.”

Turns out that method is true. Fans captured the unscripted scene where the pretend detective helped a real missing little girl find her mom. You can watch the entire thing unfold below in still pictures from fans who watched the selfless moment. According to PIX11 News, Hargitay's selfless act halted production for over 20 minutes, but ultimately the girl was reunited with her mom.