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Internet Rumour: Ramsgate Abduction Attempts - Man With Grey Hair & Glasses Driving a Red Car

Outline
Message circulating via social media claims that a man with grey hair & glasses driving a red car has been attempting to abduct children near schools in the Ramsgate (UK) area.



Brief Analysis
Police are investigating two abduction attempts in the Thanet region of the UK and suspect that the two cases may be linked. However, they warn that speculation and misinformation circulating via the Internet about these cases may hinder the investigation.

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Detailed analysis and references below example.



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Last updated: 24th March 2011
First published: 24th March 2011
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer


Example
TO ALL PARENTS! A man with grey hair & glasses driving a red car has been atempting to abduct children in the Ramsgate area. He has been seen around newington, jackie bakers & charles dickens school, he has been hanging around where children have been playing learning their names then trying to tempt them into getting into his car. Police are aware. Pass this on to all you know & keep our kids safe xx..

Ramsgate Abducatio Attempts Message




Detailed Analysis
This message, which is circulating rapidly around Facebook and other social networks, warns that a man with grey hair & glasses driving a red car has been attempting to abduct children near schools in the Ramsgate area. It claims that the man hangs around where children play and tries to tempt them to go in the car with him. The message also claims that police are aware of the abduction attempts and asks that users pass on the information to warn others. The location specified in the message apparently refers to the seaside town of Ramsgate, in east Kent, UK.

Recent news reports indicate that Kent police are investigation two abduction attempts involving children in the Thanet region of the UK, specifically Ramsgate and Margate. In one case, a man encouraged a five year old girl to get into his car. In the second incident, a man entered a house yard and spoke to a three year old boy. Police say that the two cases may be linked.

However, police are concerned that widespread rumours such as this one may hinder the investigation. An article about the incidents on yourthanet.co.uk notes:
DS John Cooper said: "Clearly these incidents are concerning and we are keen to hear from anyone who has any information that will help us with our investigations."

The officer warned that speculation on the internet could hinder their enquiries.

He said: "There has been a great deal of speculation and misinformation via the internet about these cases, and although I appreciate these messages are being circulated with the best of intentions, what we need is factual information that will allow us to run an effective investigation.
The message is quite similar to another recent UK based rumour that claimed that "someone driving a white van with a red dragon on it" had been seen abducting children. Th "dragon van" rumour remains unsubstantiated and unsupported by any credible evidence.

A real problem with these types of rumours is that they are often too vague to be useful, even if are derived from real incidents. It is quite likely that "a man with grey hair & glasses driving a red car" could be spotted at any major school. That description could fit fathers and grand-fathers picking up or dropping off children, along with teachers, other school staff or legitimate school visitors. In fact, unless they are verified as factual, such rumours can do more harm than good. Often, they waste the time and resources of police who must field endless enquiries about the messages from concerned members of the public. They may also unfairly impact on the lives of innocent people who just happen to fit the description supplied in the messages.

And, the messages often mutate as they travel. Locations and other details are often altered, further adding to the confusion created by such rumours.

Social media can be a rapid and useful way of spreading information in abduction cases. However, before reposting such a message it is important to verify that it describes a real incident. It is also important that the message contains clear, accurate and verifiable information about the incident.

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References
Police call for help after abduction attempts
White Van with Red Dragon Abduction Alert Messages

Last updated: 24th March 2011
First published: 24th March 2011
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer