Urban myth: Unsubstantiated rumors about white “kidnapping” vans stoke fear around the world
Warnings about white vans kidnapping people in the U.S. have been widely shared on social media including Facebook and Twitter in 2019.
The rumors claim that white vans are being used to kidnap women and children for human trafficking or harvesting their organs.
Such rumors are not new and have surfaced regularly in similar forms on social media.
Jack Young, the mayor of the U.S. city of Baltimore, for example, referred to the warnings on Facebook during an interview on Dec. 2, saying that there were reports “of somebody in a white van trying to snatch up young girls for human trafficking and selling body parts.”
The interview on WBAL-TV 11 Baltimore is available on YouTube.
Similar claims have circulated in France and the Philippines.
Authorities in the U.S., France and the Philippines have all denied the unsubstantiated claims.
Several media outlets in those countries have also debunked the rumors.
In November 2019 in the U.S. city of Albany, Georgia, a witness admitted to making a false kidnapping claim.
Old urban myth likely to continue
It is unclear when and where the urban myth first originated, but even back in May 2011, Le Parisien, a French daily newspaper, reported a rumor about the kidnapping of children involving a van and organ trafficking, which had been circulating in schools — despite the lack of evidence.
White vans are relatively common vehicles in many countries. Some of the social media posts circulating the rumors use stock photographs of white vans or photographs of random white vans on the street.
In some cases, the rumors have led to harassment and violence. In France, the police had to debunk rumors of children being kidnapped after two people in a white van were beaten up by a crowd.
What makes such a story believable could be that on rare occasions, such kidnapping cases do happen.
Most of the time, though, the rumors are unsubstantiated.
Though they don’t involve white vans, stories about child kidnapping gangs are quite common in many Asian countries.
In recent years, innocent people have been mistaken as kidnappers and lynched to death in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka after false warnings and fake videos were widely shared through messaging apps and social media platforms.