Police warn of social media frenzy danger
POLICE have tracked down the man whose car was seen outside a Port Elizabeth school earlier this week, resulting in a social media frenzy with warnings of suspected kidnappers watching schoolchildren – only to find out he was an Uber driver.
The incident started on social media on Wednesday, resulting in several Bay schools sending out SMS alerts to parents warning them of a suspicious car “lurking around a Port Elizabeth school”.
The alert caused a panic while WhatsApp and social media groups circulated the information.
Within hours police issued a warning stating that the messages had been exaggerated, but they confirmed that they were tracking down the driver.
Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the alert had been sent out after a parent spotted the car outside the school in Newton Park. Yesterday, police located the driver, who works for Uber and was outside the school to pick up a passenger.
“The police would like to allay fears doing the rounds on social media about a suspicious VW Polo allegedly prowling around schools in the Port Elizabeth area. The driver of the vehicle was traced and interviewed by police.
“The story portrayed on the social media platforms is vastly different from the event that transpired,” she said.
Naidu said the driver of the car was on call to pick up two women who had marked their location as being in the same street as the school. “When he saw two women emerge from the school, he assumed it was his would-be passengers. According to the driver, he asked the women if they were waiting for the taxi and when they replied that they were not, he drove off.
“He was not parked directly at the school but at the given location of the people who logged the call through the Uber App. His customers had decided to walk further down the road while waiting for him, hence the confusion.
“They eventually contacted him and they were picked up. His version was verified by police who inspected the Uber App and everything was in order.”
Naidu commended residents for their vigilance but pleaded with social media users to be cautious before relaying information without verifying it.
“We were inundated with calls from panicked parents and schools. By this stage, the message had become extremely distorted and there was talk of abductions – all of which was false,” she added.
“More worrying was a registration number that was circulated via various platforms as this could have resulted in someone being killed or injured. Distortion of facts could have dire consequences,” she said.