After viral posts about abductions and sex rings, Abbotsford police address problematic issues with social media

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      No, there haven’t been any confirmed attempted abductions, strangers trying to enter occupied vehicles, or a sex ring operating in Fraser Valley.

      However, a sudden proliferation of alarming social media posts making these claims has prompted the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) to address the issue—relevant to all citizens beyond Abbotsford—of what to do about such online alerts from unconfirmed sources.

      While citizens may feel that they are being helpful by forwarding on cautionary messages they see on social media or receive by email, there’s a counter-cautionary tale to be told about doing that as well.

      Yesterday (December 11), the APD took to social media to quell fears arising from some viral social media messages about crime in the Fraser Valley involving sex rings, attempted abductions, and strangers attempting to enter vehicles.

      The APD stated that they have been observing several posts on social media over the past two weeks that may appear alarming to community members.

      The Abbotsford News reported that an Abbotsford organization issued a public safety bulletin about some incidents that went viral among community members.

      When the Georgia Straight contacted the APD by phone today (December 12), APD spokesperson Sgt. Judy Bird confirmed that they still have not received any reports about any of these claims, all of which remain unsubstantiated.

      While she recognizes social media as an “invaluable resource”, she also cautions users about how forwarded messages can be erroneous, become transformed as they're passed along, or are little more than rumours, and she emphasized the importance of ensuring that any claims are verified by an official source.

      “If you have a concern about a social media post or something that you’ve heard or that you read, get in touch with your local police agency to find out if it’s true or what the concern is,” Sgt. Bird stated.

      She added that citizens can call or email police, or even drop by a community police office to verify what they have seen or read. Some police departments, such as the APD, also have online crime maps to incidate where recent crimes have taken place. 

      However, Sgt. Bird discourages anyone from erroneously believing that contacting police through social media is a means of reporting something.  

      Sgt. Bird explained that police agencies don’t have dispatch centres at police departments—which is now taken care of by E-Comm 911—and they therefore cannot take reports for assistance through social media because they are not the dispatch centre.

      Tagging a police department in a social-media post also does not constitute reporting something to police.

      Sgt. Bird pointed out that tagging police doesn't work because officers may not see the tag (which, for instance, only displays on Facebook under “mentions” and does not initiate a notification). In addition, some police agencies may not monitor their social media regularly or may not even monitor their social media at all. In fact, some police departments do not even have social media.

      After her 28 years as a police officer and reading online comments, Sgt. Bird says she has learned that many people are afraid of directly contacting the police because they believe police are too busy.

      “Many people don’t want to call 911 because they don’t want to bother the police or take up resources or they don’t think what they have to say or what they have seen is important,” she said. She acknowledges that they are busy but also emphasized that they depend on residents to tell them what is happening, particularly in large areas like the Fraser Valley.

      “We really rely heavily on our community to help us keep our community safe,” she said, adding that she is always very interested to hear what people have to say.

      Sgt. Bird emphasized that in an emergency or if witnessing suspicious activity, citizens should call 911 immediately and report the incident.