Bizarre stories and the tale of wanted van and the alleged kidnappers

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Talk about the ugly and the bizarre! Here in Samoa today we’ve got a classic case on our hands. Yes all the ingredients that would make other fake news from anywhere else in the world insignificant. 

We’ve got a main character in Liua Va’asili Savai’inaea, now infamously known as “superman.” We’ve got the Police, the media and then there is the public. In the space of a week, we had a tale that grew more legs than the roots of a tree, a classic story made in Samoa by Samoans for Samoa. 

Looking back now, we can have a little giggle. But it wasn’t funny at the start. If anything, the emotional toll this brought on an entire population thrown into a state of panic was unreal.

So how did all this come about? You see, like all modern day fairytales, this one started on Facebook, a platform famous for being the source of many fake news.

It’s easy enough to see why. Unregulated and without any rules, anybody can say anything about anyone at anytime. And so the story of the van with a couple going around attempting to abduct young girls was born. 

The Police immediately latched on to it.

“The Samoa Police Service (S.P.S.) has proactively approached witnesses to the alleged abduction posted by members of the public on social media,” a statement from the Police said at the time. “This matter was not reported initially to S.P.S. However, the information that S.P.S. has received so far is assisting police in launching an investigation into this matter. The information provided includes details of a possible vehicle used for the alleged offence. 

“S.P.S. takes this matter seriously and is asking members of the public to report any sighting of a van with similar description above or any mechanic workshop receiving recent request for replacement of rear windshield window of a 15 seater van.”

You can’t blame the Police for reacting. Given the serious nature of the allegations, they had to take it seriously. Anything less wouldn’t have been unacceptable where members of the public would have questioned the Police reaction.

Unfortunately in doing what they did, it immediately sent out shockwaves to the nation so that everyone who got wind of it was thrown into a state of panic.

But then who wouldn’t take this sort of stuff seriously, especially if you are a parent? 

And then there was the media. Now we’re not going to talk about anybody else’s work but ours here on these news pages. Issues of national security matter especially when they pose a threat to the lives of our people. After printing the statement from the Police about their investigation, it was determined that this was indeed a serious threat. As reporters do, one of our reporters tracked down Mr. Savai’inaea, who told of his alleged attempts to avert the kidnapping. 

His story was published on the front page, just like the statement from the Police. 

Despite everything though, there was one telling comment by Mr. Savai’inaea that erased all doubts in my mind that this was another one of them fake stories.

When the reporter asked if he had seen the two girls whom the people in the van had attempted to kidnap, he said no. He said that after he chased away the van, when he turned around, the two girls had vanished. 

Really? Even Usain Bolt couldn’t be that fast? Surely. Besides, throughout this whole ordeal, not one person was reported missing. This newspaper clearly highlighted this fact as part of its reporting. 

No one had even filed a complaint with the Police about the matter.

Fast forward to Tuesday; the Police finally issued another statement, which confirmed everything we had suspected.

“On 1st October, 2018, Police established a taskforce to look into allegations of the attempted abduction. As a result, Police could not find any evidence to support or confirm the claims made on social media (Facebook),” the statement from the Police reads.

“Consequently, Liua Vaasili Savaiinaea, a 27 year old male of Vaitele-fou has been charged with misleading (the Police). He is currently under custody awaiting his court appearance in the District Court. 

“These allegations has caused panic amongst our communities and have impacted on people’s lives and businesses such as vans being stopped and people taking matters into their own hands. We encourage victims of crime to continue to come forward and report crimes, but we discourage false and misleading reporting, which is against the law.”

That said; this hopefully brings to an end what has been a rather bizarre week. And while we can laugh now, there are lessons for everyone – including the media. In an era of fake news, greater care is needed so that we are not carried away by anything and everything people say, especially on social media.

What do you think?

Have a fabulous Friday Samoa, God bless!

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