Po­lice warn of so­cial me­dia frenzy dan­ger

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - NEWS - Gareth Wil­son wilsong@times­me­dia.co.za

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.

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