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Facebook Rumor Stokes Fear of White Vans

Rumors spread through social media have become so ubiquitous, that even city officials have propagated them--despite a lack of actual corroborating evidence. Baltimore mayor Bernard “Jack” Young said in a local TV interview. “Don’t park near a white van. Make sure you keep your cell phone in case somebody tries to abduct you.” When asked for the source of his intel, Young admitted that it had not come from law enforcement, but that “it was all over Facebook.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson said the Baltimore Police Department is aware of the posts, but had received no actual reports involving white vans. Similar unsubstantiated claims have sparked a widespread fear of white vans. Detroit handyman Marcel Jackson has repeatedly faced harassment traveling from job sites in his white van; he’s become exasperated by the attention. Jackson said repeatedly, “It’s not me. It’s not me with the sex trafficking.”

As part of their effort to combat misinformation, Facebook partners with a third party called Lead Stories to fact-check popular stories. In late November, Lead Stories posted a clarification about vans with external locks, which were said online to be telltale signs of abduction or trafficking. On the contrary, such locks are often used on construction sites to secure expensive tools.

While thanking the public for their vigilant diligence, police in Newnan, Georgia made a simple plea. "If you do see white vans or someone acting suspiciously. Don't post it on Facebook; [just] call the police.”

Potential Preaching Angles: While it’s important to remain careful, we cannot let our fear override good judgment. Fear should not get the final say; rather, we should trust God at all times, even as we partner with local law enforcement agencies to help keep our communities safe.

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