When urban myths about stranger danger spread far and wide, we come to believe that the world is too dangerous to let our kids out into it. So this week's reality check is about a woman who got into an Uber at the Tampa International Airport and proceeded to write this harrowing Facebook account, shared a half-million times:
"Last night I was picked up by an Uber. Same car, female driver. I MADE A MISTAKE. I got in before checking, as she opened the back door for me from her seat. She drove erratically and didn't speak. About 10 minutes in, my actual Uber called me asking where I was. My voice cracked, because in that instant I knew."
Knew what? She just "knew" she was being kidnapped. When the driver wouldn't change directions, she — the Facebook lady — jumped from the moving car. Afterward, "numerous" people told her that the driver was certainly a sex trafficker. The Facebook lady posted her newfound knowledge: "They use women to lure people in, and possibly hang out in the Uber lot to steal rides of similar looking cars."
Except they don't.
And in fact, what actually happened at the Tampa airport was a big misunderstanding.
"The person that posted it got into the wrong car, and there was a language barrier. It's as simple as that. This had nothing to do with sex trafficking," said Tampa police spokesman Eddy Durkin to the Orlando Sentinel.
The police checked out the story with everyone involved and consider the case closed.
So then the real questions are: Why did this woman immediately leap to "I'm being sex trafficked!"? And why did a half-million people eagerly share it?
The answer to the first is that sex trafficking is an obsession at the moment. It has become a go-to eyeball-getter in the media, where it is portrayed "Taken"-style: Someone grabs a random young person and sells her at the equivalent of a Sotheby's auction.
In reality, according to Beth Boggess, the FBI supervisory special agent who heads Colorado's violent crimes against children unit, human traffickers usually lure vulnerable people over time. "It's a completely different crime," Boggess told KUSA-TV. 'We don't see kidnapping for human trafficking."
So if sex traffickers aren't kidnapping people, why does a Facebook post such as this one get shared so much?
I think there are two things going on, besides a mistaken notion of the magnitude and MO of this crime:
1) We love to be helpful. If all it takes to save a life is to press "share," who wouldn't? You can be a super-lazy hero.
2) We also love to be at the center of excitement. If, by sharing this post, we are playing a small role in this thrillingly heinous story, well, it's better than no walk-on part at all.
The problem is that by sharing, we are not spreading helpful advice. We are spreading a damaging virus: fear.
The antidote is a reality check such as this one. So consider sharing this very column, or Google around and find something else. I found a very thorough debunking at the site Truth or Fiction. Either way, this is the information to share:
WOMAN NOT SEX TRAFFICKED BY UBER DRIVER!
Pass it on.
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.