Is Kory Terrell the spelling bee champion for the state of Texas? No, that's not true: Several years ago, the young man won the spelling bee competition at his school, Davila Middle School, in Bryan, Texas. Its mascot is the Texans, and its competition is known as the Davila Texan Spelling Bee (archived here). Apparently confusing "Texan" with "Texas," some social media users posted that Terrell won the state. He did not; he was his school champion.
An example of the claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) published on March 10, 2021. The post included an introductory message that said, "Congratulations young king." Alongside a photo of Terrell, the post read:
8th grader, Kory Terrell is the Texas Spelling Bee champion! Show him some love. These things go unnoticed!
This is what the post looked like on Facebook on April 8, 2021:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Thu Apr 8 16:20:03 2021 UTC)
Although the post was dated 2021, the story of Terrell's win has circulated since 2015. He is no longer a middle school student.
Lead Stories contacted Davila Middle School to ask what happened. We spoke to Lynred Hoepfner, dean of instruction. During a phone call on April 8, 2021, she said:
Kory was the Davila spelling bee champion for our school. We are the Davila Texans, so it has nothing to do with the state of Texas.
Hoepfner didn't recall exactly when Terrell was a student at the school, except to say that it was at least four or five years ago. She did remember that as the school's winner, he went on to compete in a regional spelling bee, which he did not win.
The confusion apparently started when the school posted about Terrell's victory on its Facebook page. Other posts (archived here and here) sourced that post, which is no longer active. Hoepfner told Lead Stories:
We removed it from our Facebook page because people didn't understand that we're the Davila Texans ... It's been a hot mess for years.
As a relevant side note, Terrell's story was shared on a Twitter account, @crystal1johnson, now known to be a bot created by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a social media troll factory sponsored by the Russian government.
According to a 2020 article on Russian disinformation campaigns, published by the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, IRA successfully infiltrated online communities across the political spectrum. It read:
Evidence from an analysis of Twitter data reveals that Russian social media trolls exploited racial and political identities to infiltrate distinct groups of authentic users, playing on their group identities.
The IRA leaders of the Black community posted two main types of tweets: first, denunciations of racism, e.g., "Ohio cop shatter [sic] windshield of police cruiser with handcuffed black man's face. Stop police brutality!" (@blk_voice); and second, apolitical celebrations of Black achievement, e.g. "8th grader, Kory Terrell is the Texas Spelling Bee champion! Show him some love. These things go unnoticed!" (@crystal1johnson).
The account, @crystal1johnson, has subsequently been suspended.