By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After a long weekend in which Gov. Tim Walz begged Minnesotans not to travel, some may have been surprised by some online reports.

Social media was filled with news that while protestors demonstrated against restrictions this weekend at his residence, Walz was vacationing in Florida.

Another widely-shared story is that Walz, who talks often of his and his wife’s careers as public school teachers, is suddenly a wealthy man, worth $400 million.

Walz says both the trip and his alleged wealth are definitely not true.

“I have not left the state since March, since [the pandemic] happened,” Walz said. “The thing I most worry about though is if you are willing to believe those types of things without any proof, you’re probably not going to listen to me when I tell you to wear a mask.”

The governor’s staff at first brushed off the comments, but then the volume increased, and the public began calling the governor’s office to complain about the imaginary Florida trip.

Mark Lanterman, a former cyber security investigator for the United States Secret Service, now runs the cybersecurity firm Computer Forensics Services.

“We need to remember that just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true,” Lanterman said.

He says it’s important to remember websites, like the one that’s disseminating false information about Walz’s net worth, may also be making money.

“Many organizations with web pages get paid based on the number of clicks that are driven to their webpage, whether that’s a quarter cent or half a cent, it all depends,” Lanterman said.

The governor and Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm say this latest spread of fake news, like the virus, is weaving its way into people lives, creating an alternate reality that can also be deadly.

“It’s deeper than that because it goes to undermining the policies,” Walz said.

“People saying, ‘Well don’t bother to get tested because the state is cooking the numbers,'” Malcolm said. “That’s horribly dangerous.”

The governor’s office says they do not know where, or who, originated the reports. Lanterman says the origin of internet fake news stories can be very difficult to trace.

Esme Murphy