RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Was it a coincidence that two North Carolina newspapers both used the term "flip flop" in headlines about the Democratic governor's stance on important state issues?
It turns out the answer is no, because neither newspaper wrote that. The wording came from the staff of the state's Republican Senate leader, Phil Berger, who used special tools available on the senator's Facebook page to alter headlines and photos of stories that they posted. The altered headlines were critical of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
The News & Observer of Raleigh reports (http://bit.ly/2n4DMky) the manager of the page was responsible for changing the content, which a Facebook spokesman says violates the social media company's use policies. Berger's office acknowledged changing the headlines, but gave no explanation, the report said.
On Jan. 30, The Charlotte Observer published a headline on its website reading, "Carolinas political leaders react to Trump's executive order." On Berger's page, the headline was changed to say, "Cooper flip flops on refugees."
In addition to changing the headline, the Facebook post also removed an image of Sen. Thom Tillis from the Observer story and replaced it with a photo of Cooper laughing.
On Feb. 13, The News & Observer of Raleigh newspaper published a headline that read, "In HB2 repeal effort, Gov. Cooper is silent on proposed nondiscrimination law." On Berger's Facebook page, the headline was changed to read, "Has Roy Cooper flip-flopped on HB 2? Gov. Cooper now refusing to support men in women's bathrooms."
Also in February, the Charlotte Observer published a headline that read, "Sports official says HB2 closing window on hopes of landing NCAA events."
Berger's Facebook page changed it to read, "Cooper's block of HB2 repeal, unwillingness to compromise is closing window on hopes of landing NCAA events."
Beneath the headlines were links to the original, unaltered news stories.
"I am glad for you to post News & Observer articles on your Facebook page," executive editor John Drescher wrote to Berger in a letter dated Feb. 15. "However, I ask that you not change the headline or photo we placed on the story, as you have several times recently. Most readers of your page will think the headline written by your staff was the original N&O headline and will be misled."
The newspaper quoted Facebook spokesman Andy Stone as saying that Berger's office violated a Facebook policy in which users agree they "will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory."
Berger spokeswoman Amy Auth issued a statement on Thursday criticizing Facebook for how it interpreted the policy. She did not, however, say why Berger's staff altered the headlines.
Drescher said Thursday that he's concerned by such a response.
"I was surprised that Sen. Berger intentionally misrepresented our news articles by writing fake headlines on them," he said. "And I'm disappointed that even after Facebook has said Sen. Berger is violating its policy, he continues to defend the practice."