Will we believe you when you need help? False alerts create panic‚ waste police resources


Will we believe you when you need help? False alerts create panic‚ waste police resources

TMG Digital | 2017-05-31 17:14:36.0

04 December 2014. Fikile Mbalula speaks during an interview with Sowetan in Johannesburg. Pic: Vathiswa Ruselo Sowetan/Sunday World

Fikile Mbalula.

Image by: Vathiswa Ruselo

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula’s quick draw on social media has helped make him one of the country’s best known politicians‚ but his willingness to respond to requests for help is being abused.

This week‚ he and his 776‚000 twitter followers were alerted about a motorist “kidnapping children” in and around Soweto. The minister‚ who then received messages of concern‚ responded that police would investigate the tip-off.

The problem is that the report was false.

“…There is an increasing number of false posts on social media about missing‚ kidnapped and abducted girls and women‚” the South African Police Service said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The hoaxes‚ fake news and the dissemination of false information which we have experienced of late not only sow panic among our communities but also waste the police’s time and resources.”

The post referred to by the Minister was about an abduction of a girl in Naledi‚ Soweto‚ by people in a Quantum vehicle. Its registration number was widely shared.

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“After an immediate and thorough investigation‚ the owner of the Quantum was traced and could prove that the vehicle had been parked and immobile over the period of the alleged abduction‚” police said. “When the originator of the post was traced for clarity‚ she could not substantiate her story.”

Many social media posts relating to crime in general and crimes against women‚ children and vulnerable persons are relevant and helpful‚ the SAPS said.

“We participate on social media platforms in order to interact with communities and obtain their views and inputs. Policing is a consultative and collaborative process and the SAPS has no intention of serving and protecting in isolation from our communities.”

However‚ “Hoaxes and false posts‚ some even maliciously published to extract revenge on an individual‚ to attract attention or to make a lover jealous‚ not only divert the police’s stretched resources but can also have far-reaching repercussions”.

In KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday night‚ a false allegation was made on social media about trafficking in human body parts. It escalated into looting and violent protest action during which two people were shot‚ one of whom died. The police were also fired on as they attempted to normalise the situation.

“This is a clear example of how the reckless or malicious use of social media can cause chaos and even loss of life‚” the SAPS statement said.

Acting National Police Commissioner‚ Lt Gen Khomotso Phahlane‚ commented: “Whilst state resources are being utilised to verify and investigate hoaxes‚ the police are being diverted from performing their constitutionally mandated duties of preventing‚ detecting and combating crime – and this is an untenable situation.”

Lt-Gen Phahlane cautioned: “Just as in the event of a person laying a false criminal charge‚ those spreading false information through social media‚ leading to crime being committed or fruitless use of state resources‚ will be investigated and prosecuted or subjected to civil litigation to recover police expenses.”

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