It was the kind of joke that tired or exasperated moms make all the time, especially after a long day with a toddler.

As Alex McDaniel wrote for Magnolia State Live, she has been tweeting funny conversations with her son since he was about two years old.

The Mississippi mom — who is also the editorial director of Oxford Newsmedia — uses Twitter to discuss news and sports (especially Ole Miss games). But she also likes to share the some of the funny elements of motherhood.

On September 21, McDaniel tweeted a conversation with her three-year-old son about potty-training (or the lack thereof). She then followed up with a tongue-in-cheek offer that any parent would understand. She tweeted: “Three-year-old for sale. Twelve dollars or best offer.”

Any of McDaniel’s followers would have easily understood that the tweet was meant as a joke. But one person chose to see it differently. And that’s why McDaniel soon found a caseworker from Child Protective Services (CPS) and a sheriff’s deputy standing in her office.

The surprised mom was informed that she was now the subject of a human trafficking investigation. Apparently, someone had turned her in to the authorities for her tweet. She wrote:

They told me an anonymous male tipster called Mississippi’s child abuse hotline days earlier to report me for attempting to sell my three-year-old son, citing a history of mental illness that probably drove me to do it.

No matter how absurd it might have seemed to everyone involved, the report launched an official investigation. So McDaniel was told to bring her son home from preschool, so that she could prove she wasn’t abusing or trafficking him:

Beyond notifying me of the charges, they said I’d have to take my son out of school so they could see him and talk to him that day, presumably protocol to ensure children aren’t in immediate danger. So I went to his preschool, pulled my son out of a deep sleep during naptime, and did everything in my power not to cry in front of him on the drive back to my office.

McDaniel’s tweet meant that she would have to undergo a home visit, in which CPS would inspect her house and question her son to see if she was an unfit mother.

Though she quickly got the help of a lawyer, who ensured that the issue was resolved within days, McDaniel called that period, “the most hellish week of my life.”

Because CPS protects the anonymity of informants, McDaniel doesn’t know who reported her. She suspects that it wasn’t a misunderstanding, but rather an attack from someone who dislikes the political stances she takes on Twitter. She wrote:

I have no proof it was a targeted attack, but enemies come with the territory in this business. It seems unimaginable that someone would despise my opinions on flags and statues so much that the only answer is to harm my family, but in some ways, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

McDaniel said that she isn’t mad at CPS, as they were, “doing what they had to do.” But she is angry that someone would come after her in a way that hurts her son as well. Moreover, she’s upset that someone wasted CPS resources as a weapon to take down a stranger, when there are families that genuinely need that help.

After her experience, McDaniel regretfully announced that she was going to have to stop sharing quotes from her three-year-old on Twitter. While she originally included stories from her family life as a way to reach out to other parents, things changed when her tweets made her a target. She wrote on Twitter:

I didn’t see it as oversharing my life for the sake of a tweet. I saw it as a piece of the parenting experience that many of my followers would identify with. But when those pieces are used to take a person down just for the sake of doing it, I can’t exactly justify sharing anything about my family, as harmless as it all seemed.

McDaniel said she isn’t going to pretend that she’s not a mom anymore — or that her son isn’t a central part of her life. But while she’s still active on social media, she won’t expose her son to it any longer. As she wrote on Twitter:

“My family is the only thing in the world I can protect. And I’m not here to hurt them for a few retweets.”

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