“Beware of men in white vans traveling the country, abducting young women and children, using them for human sex trafficking or selling them for body parts.”
According to a recent CNN report November saw an upswing in this unsubstantiated RUMOR, a rumor that went viral on Facebook and Instagram, a rumor that even had the Mayor of Baltimore warning his city to BEWARE of men in white vans abducting and selling women and children for sex and body parts.
This is how fear-mongering starts. This is what drives panic and paranoia. This is how the long reaching tentacles of the internet allow the exaggerated, made- up stories or suspicions of a few to morph into a public witch-hunt of many.
The Baltimore Police Dept. report they had not notified their mayor of any incidents of white van abductions and yet, the mayor went public with an unsubstantiated rumor he read on Facebook.
Incidents of people reporting men in white vans “staring at them” while parked in gas station parking lots, suspicious white vans parked on the street outside someone’s home or vans driving through the neighborhoods filled the rumor mill. Despite the fact that there was no evidence to back up any of these “stranger danger” rumors, they spread across the country by way of the internet. They may have been passed on thru Facebook or Instagram by those who continued to believe them or those who just enjoy keeping rumors alive. Facebook and Instagram both reported posts and shares regarding “the white vans of sex traffickers” that reached into the thousands. People posted messages advising parents to keep their children safe inside, that if a white van parked next to your car you should stay away or that if you saw a white van with external locks, you should immediately contact 911.
The Rumors continued to grow. People were advised to be on the lookout for vans with external locks because once abducted these vans were inescapable. (Many construction vans have exterior locks to keep tools and work materials safe.)
Recently a contractor in Detroit reported having been harassed simply because he was driving a white van.
Facebook’s fact-checker ran a fact check after these rumors increased. They applied the information to some of the posts to indicate that there is no particular reason to be concerned about white vans with external locks, that the posts are not necessarily true.
The problem is that the “mis-information” is already out there. While Facebook’s attempt to slow down the rumor mill is admirable, there’s no stopping this train. Every day the rumors continue to spread, now they have moved on to screenshots of the Facebook post being circulated in an email for parents in a NY suburb. A Georgia sheriff is advising his town’s citizens to contact his office rather than posting on the internet if suspicious white vans are seen.
This is just how it starts.
Soon, some innocent person minding their own business, who happens to be driving a white construction van with external locks will be falsely accused of being a child-abducting-sex-trafficker.
This is how mob mentality occurs, only now it occurs through the internet and it spreads across the world like wildfire.
This started with an unfounded rumor carelessly and thoughtlessly posted on the internet by someone who thought it more important to “post” then to check facts first.
This is how innocent people minding their own business end up beaten or killed.
What has happened to common sense?