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Column: Save the children, but please use valid information when you do
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I started a Facebook group a while back to connect foster care resources in Hall County. It’s one of the few truly good things to have come from Facebook. 

People post that they have an extra crib, clothes, some toys. And others say, “Yes, I could use that for our new little one.” 

Those who work with the closet run in the basement under the Court-Appointed Special Advocates office also chime in to meet needs, as do those with the Gainesville First United Methodist Church foster closet. 

In short, if local foster parents have a simple need, there’s a good chance it can be met by the group. Sometimes even the more complicated needs, like babysitting or overnight care, are met. 

Anyone local who is fostering or helps those who are fostering is welcome to the group. 

Recently, as admin of this group, I’ve gotten a lot of strange requests to join. 

There was Govind Raj, who lives in India. All the activity I can see on his profile is from Aug. 31. 

Before him was Man T Mathox — also no activity except on Aug. 31. Not much of his profile appears public. All I can see is that he’s following South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. 

And there was Breezy Wizzle, or Taylor Gang — two names listed. He lives in Benin and has a lot more viewable posts than the others. Maybe he’s a real person. 

Whether they are fake accounts or not, none of them have any business joining a small foster group in Hall County. I’ve gotten more than 20 such strange requests in the past month.  

Social media is a strange place where people you’ve never heard of try to friend you or join your group and where #savethechildren can turn into a misinformation campaign by those subscribing to the conspiracy theories of QAnon.  

Save the Children is a humanitarian aid organization devoted to doing things like fighting childhood poverty and advocating for children’s education. QAnon believers allege “President Trump is defending the planet from a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles (consisting mostly of Hollywood celebrities, liberal politicians and "deep-state" government officials) who are running a secret child sex-trafficking ring,” according to Forbes

Pedophilia is wrong. Harming children is wrong. Spreading misinformation about pedophilia does nothing to help the children who are victims of sexual abuse. 

A more local example is the meme saying, “How is finding 39 missing children in a double wide trailer NOT the biggest news story in America?” It took off like wildfire, sowing distrust in the media.  

Only, 39 children were not found in a doublewide. They were found during a two-week operation in multiple locations in metro Atlanta and Macon and it was covered by the media, including the Associated Press, whose coverage was printed in The Times. You can find the original press release on the U.S. Marshals Service website and reporting about the operation on news sites all over. 

The news itself was bad enough. How does diverting people with bad information combat the awful realities of child abuse? 

We all want to save children from the horrific things some of them endure, but these posts are capitalizing on that emotional reaction to spread misinformation. And the misinformation does not save children; it’s about politics. 

Here’s some information. 

Authorities said 15 of the 39 children in the recent operation were trafficked for sex, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Nine people were arrested in the operation, some of whom now face sex trafficking charges. The courts will determine their innocence or guilt. 

The prevalence of sexual abuse over the course of childhood is 10.7% to 17.4% for girls and 3.8% to 4.6% for boys, according to a review released in 2016 of child sexual abuse prevalence studies. The review was initiated by Darkness to Light, which is a nonprofit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse.  

There were 344 Hall County children in foster care as of March 31, 2020, according to fosteringcourtimprovement.org. Most children are placed in foster care due to issues such as neglect and parental drug use. The same website shows 3% are removed due to sexual abuse.  

Local agencies doing work to help children who may have been sexually abused include the following:  

Their websites include information about how to donate and other ways you can help. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a licensed foster parent. 

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