As of January 2017, the number of people using social media has grown to be a colossal amount. With 1,871 million daily users on Facebook, 600 million on Instagram and 317 million on Twitter, we really are in golden age of social networking. Therefore, broadcasting the news online has been a popular way to communicate information to the public for quite some time now, especially on social network sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – so when there was a rise on the number of missing people reported by the Washington DC Police on social media platforms, this led to a massive public outcry as it was believed that the number of missing people was increasing to a terrifying amount, particularly as the majority of those were black teenage girls.
Since the 19th March 2017, the Washington DC Police force has tweeted 20 missing person posters (10 of which are for minors), which has therefore led many people to believe the number of missing persons has increased drastically. In relation to the viral hashtag which spread around Twitter and Instagram like wildfire (#missingDCgirls), it all started when a viral Instagram post claimed that “14 African-American Girls have Gone Missing in DC in the Last 24 Hours” , which led to numerous amounts of people campaigning for awareness on this extraordinary and terrifying case and even accusing the DC police force of neglecting missing person cases of black female teenagers. However, when looking beyond the facts on social media on verified news websites and word from the Washington DC Police themselves, this is not the case.
In early March of this year, new police officers have been commissioned into the DC police and thus they have taken on-board a new form of endorsement for missing persons. Before the new commission, the DC police would only publish missing person cases if they suspected foul-play i.e. if they thought the person was taken against their will; but now, they have started to report all missing person cases, even to those (which is the majority) that are confirmed runaways from home. Therefore, as the DC police have started to post more flyers on missing people (including those in March prior to the new commission date of the 19th March 2017), because of this new commission, people freaked out as they thought all the people in these posters (especially juveniles) had all gone missing, in the same time, and these cases are all those linked with foul play i.e. had all been abducted against their will. In fact, all the girls reported in the viral outcry of “14 girls have gone missing in DC in the Last 24 hours” have been reported as runaways and the majority of which have been found and reunited with their parents or guardians – the mayor of Washington DC Muriel Bowser has recently stated that there is no reason to suspect a possible kidnapping in any of these cases as the police have confirmed beliefs that they are runaways and that most of the girls have been returned safely to their loved ones and are seeking professional help if needed.
Another result of this faux story going viral is the common belief that 2017 has seen a massive rise in the number of people going missing not only in Washington DC, but all over the USA – this is also untrue. So far, 500 juveniles have gone missing in Washington DC this year; however, only 24 of these cases are unsolved as of March 24th. Therefore, there isn’t a spike in missing people in Washington DC and actually, the percentage of missing people in DC has decreased – in 2016 there were 1,000 fewer reports of missing people compared to figures in 2012. In fact, 500 reported missing person cases since the start of this year is a massive decrease compared to figures in 2015 where there were reports of 200 people every month going missing in the DC area. When looking at the solved/unsolved nature of missing person cases, 99% of cases do get solved not only in the DC area but all over America and the majority of which are either runaways from home or a misunderstanding between families. For this reason, the residents of Washington DC have been told not to panic because of the viral hashtags that have been floating around the internet and the more frequent missing person posters, it is simply a new campaign the DC Police have put forward, in order to spread more awareness of people going missing.
Therefore if we can take anything away from this crazy story going viral over the past couple of weeks, it is to inform people of the fact that thousands of people, not only in Washington DC, but all over the world go missing every year. Altogether 4,432,880 people have vanished in the past 20 years and 250,000 people disappear every year, whether that be from the person’s own choice or in the extremely rare incident of a kidnapping. Even though most of which do get solved, there have been incidents where the case has been classified as a “cold case” since the police believe there is no more evidence or information that they can follow up on, in order to solve the case. For this reason, I think it is very important to inform the public that they can’t turn a blind eye to the massive numbers of people that go missing every year (even if the number has dropped in the recent years) and perhaps as a result of this story going viral, it will encourage people to seek information about missing people cases and to spread awareness of the missing people, in the hope that they will return to their families safe and sound.
To find out more information about missing people visit http://www.missingpeople.org.uk/