A Mississippi mom who sent what she considered to be a funny tweet about her 3-year-old son found herself in the midst of a human trafficking investigation.
Alex McDaniel, a journalist and the editorial director at Oxford Newsmedia, penned a column about the terrifying incident.
"This time last week, I was the subject of a human trafficking investigation," she wrote.
"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."
McDaniel told ABC News, "It took a few minutes for me to fully absorb the fact that it wasn’t a sick joke or misunderstanding," she said. "I was caught between knowing I’d done nothing wrong and knowing these people had the power to take my son away from me."
According to McDaniel's account in her column, an anonymous tip to Mississippi’s child abuse hotline a few days earlier had reported she was "attempting to sell my 3-year-old son, citing a history of mental illness that probably drove me to do it."
She was required to take her son out of preschool and drive him back to her office to meet with the people from CPS.
The day prior to the call, McDaniel said, she tweeted a funny conversation she had with her son about potty training, followed by another tweet. That was what the caller used as evidence her son was in danger, McDaniel said.
3yo for sale
$12 OBO— Alex McDaniel (@AlexMcDaniel) September 22, 2017
I’ve tweeted conversations with my [now 4-year-old] son since he was 2 years old. When I realized how many parents related to them and how many people were following me solely to read those, I started tweeting them more regularly," McDaniel told ABC News. "Parenting is the hardest job in the world. We need humor and support to do it well, in my opinion. Even if that support comes in the form of creating online connections with strangers over a funny tweet."
She said she doesn't believe this was a tweet taken out of context but rather a "targeted attack."
"The thing is, I’m a female news editor in small-town Mississippi with strong opinions on racism, sexism and fighting for LGBT rights. Luckily, Oxford’s a progressive, forward-thinking town, but you don’t do a job like this without making enemies," she said.
After CPS visited her office, McDaniel's attorney got involved and was able to halt the investigation.
"I’ve spent years writing stories about innocent people put in situations they couldn’t escape simply because someone had the power to ruin their life," she told ABC News. "I’m a single mother. My son is my entire world. The possibility of losing him, even temporarily, because of a dumb joke was devastating to me. And all I could think about was how many people had gone through something like this and didn’t have an attorney to represent them or a platform to tell their story. I’m the luckiest person alive and I know that."
She called the incident a "huge reminder that the internet is a scary place and even being smart about posts involving your personal life can hurt you if someone knows how to fashion your words into a weapon."