Fake Abduction Story Circulates Around East Lansing
A fake story of young women being abducted near MSU by “six Arabic men” is circulating on text and social media around town. ELPD confirms the story is not true, community leaders are calling the text harmful, and a law professor spoke to ELi about the cultural and legal context for this kind of messaging.
The text, shown below, states that two “girls” were grabbed by strangers in a van “off MSU campus.” It goes on:
“My cousin and his friend sprinted up and were able to get the girls out, but then the 4 of them proceeded to get the absolute [expletive] beat out of them by 6 Arabic men. My cousin got his nose broke and one of the girls had to get staples in her head. A police report has been filed and apparently this isn’t the first instance of it happening right off a college campus and it’s happened a lot lately.”
It then encourages people to “pass this message or screenshot along to your girlfriends at MSU or social media or whatever you think would help.”
ELi received the message yesterday from a reader asking if the story in it was true. We checked with ELPD Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez, who responded, “No it's not. We have had no reports of this type of activity. News 6 called on the same thing a few days ago.”
We posted the news that this is fake on ELi’s Twitter account, and Rev. Kit Carlson, pastor at All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, responded: “Not only is it fake, the detail about ‘Arabic men’ sows the seeds of hatred and racism, too.”
Geoffrey Stone is a University of Chicago law professor and author of Sex and the Constitution, a recent book about sex, culture, and justice in America. Asked to comment on the fake text, Stone told ELi via email, “There is, of course, a long history of fear mongering based of false reports designed to defame particular groups. This was especially true in the South with false stories about black men raping white women.”
Thasin Sardar, spokesperson for the Islamic Center of East Lansing, agrees with others that the story carries an anti-Islamic overtone that could harm people.
“It is very sad to see that deliberate misinformation is being used to perpetuate hate and fear against a specific ethnic minority,” Thasin tells ELi. “This sort of fake news targeting local communities does lasting damage by sowing suspicion against specific faith and ethnic groups.”
He added, “Though not isolated, we must not take this lightly and dismiss it either. We must use every channel available to inform people how not to fall for attempts by those that seek to sow discord in our loving and caring community.”
East Lansing resident Vic Loomis was one of the people who received the circulating text. Loomis was Mayor of East Lansing in 2010 when a man burned a copy of the Koran outside the Islamic Center, and Loomis led local efforts to support the Center in response.
Loomis says of the currently-circulating text, "It's cruel two ways: cruel against a segment of our community and cruel to instill fear in the young women on campus.”
Rev. Alice Townley of the Presbyterian Church of Okemos and a member of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Greater Lansing, says she hopes people in town let others know the story is false and hopes they support those targeted by such messaging.
“It needs to be dealt with as false so that people can stop its spread, and investigate further before forwarding something like this in the future,” said Townley. “In days when fear and suspicion are stirred, it is especially important to reach out to neighbors who might feel targeted. Reaching out, and expressing care and concern, are things we can all do.”
Townley added that a good way to do this is for people to attend Monday’s interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the University United Methodist Church in East Lansing. The featured speaker for this year’s event is Iman Sohail Chaudhry from the Islamic Center, next door.
Stone, the law professor, has some warning for people who might purposefully attempt to spread defamatory messages about groups.
“In 1952, in a case called Beauharnais v Illinois, the Supreme Court held that such speech could be punished as group libel. Today, that is an open question. (Beauharnais is no longer good law). But if an intentionally false statement defaming a named individual can be the basis for a libel action, as the Supreme Court has often held, then why not an intentionally factually false statement about a group?”
He adds, “There are arguments on both sides, but the Supreme Court hasn’t recently considered that question.”
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Note: When this story was originally published, it included the name of the person who sent the message. We've since learned that that individual was misled and have received a request to remove her name so that she is not targeted for a text she regrets having sent. As a consequence, her name has been removed from the story.