Hang on a second – you’re telling me people are sharing unverified stories on Facebook before they’ve bothered to check if its true?
Wow, what a shocker.
Yes, much like your uncle who thinks that unless he copies and pastes some error-ridden ‘legal notice’ about the Rome Statute, Facebook and Instagram will steal his photos, humans are now apparently too lazy to engage in the simplest fact-checking before spreading shite on social media.
The latest faux panic sweeping the US involves a story blowing up on Facebook about “men driving white vans [that] are kidnapping women all across the United States for sex trafficking and to sell their body parts”.
Look, this is plausible, but a series of Facebook posts spreading the story doesn’t exactly scream credibility.
Here’s CTV News with how one US mayor was even duped:
The latest online-induced panic shows how viral Facebook posts can stoke paranoia and make people believe that spotting something as common as a white van, can be deemed suspicious and connected to a nationwide cabal.
“Don’t park near a white van,” Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young said in a TV interview on Monday. “Make sure you keep your cellphone in case somebody tries to abduct you.”
The mayor said he had not been told of the apparent threat by Baltimore Police but said it was “all over Facebook.”
Yeah, but then the Baltimore Police department chimed in and said it had not received “any reports of actual incidents”.
That hasn’t stopped the story being shared hundreds of thousands of times, and at least one white-van driving civilian has reported being harrassed thus far.
Human trafficking is a very real, and very serious, issue, but spreading misinformation like this benefits nobody – other than Facebook, of course.
How do these things start doing the rounds? Exhibit A:
Sightings of “suspicious” white vans in Baltimore have been reported on Facebook for years. For example, CNN Business found one 2016 post from a woman who warned there was a white van outside her home and that people should be careful because there was “a guy in a white van kidnapping kids.”
Contacted by CNN Business Tuesday, the woman said she had no specific evidence to back up the claim but that she had heard it “plenty of times” and was only trying to warn her friends who have children.
Good work, mystery woman I assume is named Karen.
Other posts have used stock photos of white vans with dire warnings, offering zero proof of anything resembling criminality.
We have seen similar hoaxes about kids being kidnapped in Cape Town, or Halloween sweets laced with tik, pop up time and time again over the years.
This Christmas, when the latest hoax starts doing the rounds, treat yourself to the gift of Google.
Oh, one more thing while you’re here – a PSA that the likes of Pick n Pay aren’t ever giving away R1 500 coupons to those who forward dodgy links around via WhatsApp.
Use some common sense before you forward those links to family members, who then enter their personal details and become sitting ducks for future illicit activity.
If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and a few seconds worth of Googling will save you a great deal of hassle.
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