Social Media Crusaders Are Harming the Search for Evelyn Boswell: Police
The search for missing baby Evelyn Boswell suffers a deluge of false tips and bad information.
A deluge of social media posts and false information is seriously hurting the search for missing toddler Evelyn Boswell, an effort already hampered by the fact no one reported her disappearance for at least two months, authorities said.
More than 60 Facebook groups have popped up, one with more than 21,000 members, since last week when the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an Amber Alert for the Sullivan County baby who hasn't been seen since December.
More than 600 calls have poured into the TBI tip line with sightings or information about little Evelyn, but none of the reports of her being seen alive have proved true, officials said. Thousands of theories, opinions, speculations and hunches about what happened to the child, and why, have flooded social media sites.
On YouTube, Tarot card readings have popped up, as well as psychic readings and dreams experienced by people who have never met Evelyn, nor live anywhere near Tennessee.
People respond to the posts, and then forward them to law enforcement "as if it is verifiable information ... and that just clogs the system," Brandon Boatwright, a graduate assistant in the Adam Brown Social Media Analytics Lab at the University of Tennessee, told InsideEdition.com Thursday.
There is "this sense that social media can solve problems, and it can. But problems like these are better left to the professionals," he said.
"Social media has such low barriers of entry into these kinds of conversations," Boatwright noted, "and it's a story so dense and difficult and kind of curious in a lot of ways, that it creates the right conditions for this misinformation to spread."
That may be understating the situation.
Authorities say a good deal of the misinformation surrounding Evelyn's disappearance has come from the child's mother, 18-year-old Megan "Maggie" Boswell, who was arrested late Tuesday on charges of making false statements to police.
Since Evelyn was reported missing last week by her grandfather, who said he had not seen the girl since Thanksgiving, Megan initially told investigators the baby was with her biological father, Ethan Perry, an active duty Army soldier stationed in Louisiana, according to court documents. That proved untrue, Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy said.
The parents are not married and Megan has full custody of Evelyn.
She later said in interviews with local reporters that Evelyn was with a babysitter, and later still, Megan said her mother, 42-year-old Angela Boswell, had Evelyn.
"Every time we talk to her, her story changes," Cassidy told reporters Wednesday. "Every single time.
"We were already behind the eight ball, 67 to 68 days (had passed) before she was reported missing,” the sheriff said. "At this point, most of you are aware we have received a number of conflicting, inaccurate statements from the mother, Megan Boswell. Many of the statements Megan made delayed our investigation and also impeded our investigation in trying to find Evelyn.”
He also castigated the stories being passed as fact on Twitter, Facebook and other sites.
“This is a very, very difficult case,” Cassidy said. “And a lot of stuff is coming through that’s just not accurate. A lot of stuff being reported, and on social media, has not come from our office. We want to release the most accurate information we can and be prompt in doing so.”
Other members of Megan's family have landed in jail in connection with the investigation.
Angela, Megan's mother, was arrested Feb. 21 with her boyfriend, William McCloud, 33, in North Carolina on fugitive warrants, according to the Wilkes County Sheriff's Office. The couple was in possession of a car that had been reported stolen. McCloud told a judge that Megan had given them the car and that he did not know there was any problem with the vehicle.
All three remain in custody in lieu of bail. They have not yet entered pleas.
Sullivan County and state authorities have pleaded for public calm when calling the tip line or sending messages to law enforcement social media accounts.
"Our message boxes are just swamped," TBI public information officer Leslie Earhart told InsideEdition.com. Each entry must be researched, she said, taking up valuable time "with things that just aren't accurate. We're afraid we're missing things" that are accurate.
"Social media can be a huge asset, but in this particular case, there are so many theories and so many posts that are just simply not true," she said.
Journalists can also play a part in the circle of confusion. "I don't think the media realizes how many tips come in that mention a specific location and those locations have to be checked, and then media outlets pick that up and that starts a whole new round," she said.
On Wednesday, helicopters hovered overhead and local journalists filmed themselves on Facebook live heading to a pond in rural North Carolina, where fire and rescue crews were using a remote device to search the body of water in connection with Evelyn's case.
Local stations live-streamed the efforts. Nothing was found.
"We would encourage people to not necessarily believe everything they see," she said. "If you see something that is truly legitimate, give us a call.
"We understand that people are passionate about this case," Earhart said. "So are we. We understand that people have a lot of questions. So do we. We are doing everything that we can to find her. And we will continue to do everything that we can to find her."
Those with accurate information are urged to call the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office at 423-279-7330 or the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.
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