Crime misinformation shows need to vet social media rumors

UOPD patrol car

The University of Oregon Police Department is reminding members of the UO community about how they inform campus about criminal activity and urging them to be cautious about spreading unverified social media rumors, following two incidents that occurred this week.

UOPD encourages students and all members of the campus community to report any criminal, suspicious or threatening activity to authorities. Reporting these incidents quickly is important in helping law enforcement investigate them and, if necessary, share information to help people take protective action.

This week, the Eugene Police Department reported two instances of social media posts about potential kidnappings in Eugene, near campus. Each report was based on a single witness’ account that upon investigation were found to be untrue. The posts were shared and viewed by tens of thousands of people, creating real-life anxiety and fear in the community and for student parents.

Once Eugene Police investigated both off-campus incidents, they quickly debunked those claims.

No kidnappings or any other crimes were linked to either one.

In the second instance, the social media flurry has led to the owner of a van featured in the video being harassed online and in person, according to EPD, even though he did not commit a crime and cooperated with police.

“We understand that people want to share information quickly and that they are just trying to keep each other safe,” said UOPD Chief Matt Carmichael. “But unfortunately, false unverified information can take hold and cause distress and ultimately do more harm than good.”

“Even if your intentions are good, we urge people not to share unsubstantiated social media posts about serious crimes of this nature,” he said. “Report it instead.”

If a violent crime or a credible ongoing threat occurred on or near campus, UOPD is required by federal law to let our community know quickly.

UOPD will communicate through the UO Alerts system, which uses email and text message alerts, and through its official social media channels.

“Alerting our community if our campus or the nearby areas are unsafe is something that we are committed to doing, that we are legally required to do, and that we always will do,” Carmichael said.

UOPD urges everyone to report criminal activity immediately to 911, or for nonemergency situations on or near campus, to UOPD at 541-346-2919. The UOPD also operates an anonymous tip line, 541-346-2974, to allow persons to anonymously report security- and safety-related information and concerns.

UOPD works closely and stays in constant communication with the Eugene Police Department on cases or crime reports involving the UO community, even if they occur off campus.

Carmichael urged UO students to make use of UOPD services and resources to help them be safe on campus.

Duck Rides, a nighttime transportation service, is operating 7 days a week and is available to all UO students between 5:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Students can call the service at 541-346-7433 at any time to make a reservation. UOPD also offers a 24-hour safety escort service for all students from any campus location to any other campus location.

UOPD is offering free online self-defense classes available to all students Feb. 10 and Feb. 22.