Po­lice’s bid to send alert on miss­ing teens ends up with false news spread­ing, in­creased racial tensions

New Straits Times - - World -

WASH­ING­TON for miss­ing young peo­ple”.

It ap­peared that they achieved their goal, and some. The posts went vi­ral, ag­gre­gated by users and shared on­line hun­dreds of thou­sands of times.

How­ever, sign of the heated in­ter­est in the topic, many posts strayed into false­hoods about kid­nap­pings and hu­man traf­fick­ing, along with ac­cu­sa­tions of me­dia pur­posely ig­nor­ing the is­sue.

Emo­tions peaked with an In­sta­gram post that stated, er­ro­neously, that “14 girls have gone miss­ing in DC in the last 24 hours”.

Since then, so­cial net­works have been lit up with false ru­mours, un­der hash­tags like #BringBack­OurGirls, #miss­ingDC­girls and #Fin­dour­girls.

Sev­eral play­ers from the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion’s Wash­ing­ton Wizards shared the false in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia, con­tribut­ing to its spread.

The false news found root in fer­tile soil — many black Amer­i­cans feel news per­tain­ing to them doesn’t re­ceive the same cov­er­age as events af­fect­ing white Amer­i­cans.

The city’s Po­lice De­part­ment found it­self caught in a tor­nado of pub­lic­ity, and was pep­pered with ques­tions at a public meet­ing in a pre­dom­i­nantly black neigh­bour­hood last week.

Although the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is fre­quently in the news, the cap­i­tal’s black neigh­bour­hoods don’t typ­i­cally get much cov­er­age. The city is pre­dom­i­nantly black (48 per cent), fol­lowed by whites (36 per cent) and His­pan­ics (10 per cent).

Fac­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of a coverup or not tak­ing enough ac­tion, author­i­ties here held a press con­fer­ence on Fri­day.

“The num­ber of re­ported miss­ing per­sons is not go­ing up,” said Chanel Dick­er­son, the head of the Po­lice De­part­ment’s In­ves­tiga­tive Ser­vices Bu­reau, Youth and Fam­ily Ser­vices Divi­sion.

“In fact, statis­tics show the num­ber of miss­ing mi­nors here stay­ing rel­a­tively sta­ble, be­tween 2,200 and 2,400 each year.”

Ap­prox­i­mately 95 per cent of the cases are closed, with the miss­ing per­son ei­ther found or re­turn­ing home on their own. A white horse and a brown mule run­ning across In­ter­state 680, east of San Fran­cisco, on Mon­day. Steve Burdo with Con­tra Costa County An­i­mal Ser­vices says the horse, a geld­ing named Striker, ap­pears to have led the break­out through a fence about 1.6km away, whereas Hank the mule is more of a fol­lower. Author­i­ties shut down the high­way as mo­torists shot videos and of­fi­cers rounded up the four-legged fugi­tives .

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