Miami-Dade family lives in fear following Facebook post
SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Earlier in November, a Facebook post showing what appeared to be a suspected kidnapping van was making its rounds online.
The poster wrote that he saw the white van with deadbolt locks at Bird Road and Southwest 137th Avenue "following two little girls coming out of McDonald's," and that he alerted authorities.
"This is the typical kidnapping van," the post continued. "See something say something."
But then the owner of that white van saw the post.
Michael Gildelreal told Local 10 he's not a kidnapper; he's a dad and construction worker. His van is for work and those deadbolts should be familiar to anyone who travels with tools, he said.
"I'm actually losing jobs because of this now. I can't even drive the van - this is my only vehicle as transportation," Gildelreal said.
Gildelreal said his mother saw the post first, and called him about it. Within days, it was shared numerous times, even catching the attention of a nearby charter school.
Gildelreal said he was even threatened with a gun by another driver.
"When I rolled down the window to ask him what seems to be the problem, he had a gun in his hand. It looked like a Glock 40. Pointed straight at me telling me to get out the van," he recalled. He called police and filed a report.
"It's hit Instagram, Facebook - the whole social media. I mean, this has gone viral. To the point that I'm actually scared for my life," Gildelreal said
Miami Dade police confirm the department never received a call of any attempted kidnapping in that area. There is no McDonald's at the intersection of Bird Road and Southwest 137th Avenue. Gildelreal said he had no idea where the photos were taken nor why.
"I have no clue. This guy must have [taken] a picture while I was driving. Maybe I could have cut him off or something, I don't know,' he said.
The name on the Facebook post, that was shared on an unofficial Miami-Dade transit page, is Jose Novoa.
Novoa is a Miami-Dade Transit employee.
After attempting to find Novoa in person, Local 10 caught up with him on the phone Monday.
Novoa claims his Facebook account was hacked, and that he was in contact with Facebook to investigate. He did not provide any screenshots or proof of the investigation after asked. On Tuesday, his account appeared to be deleted.
Police departments generally cannot do much about people posting false information on social media.
But attorneys say people who feel they've been slandered do have recourse.
"Florida is one of those states, 23 states, while you will not see many prosecutions, there is a libel law on the books that if you write something that is false - for example, accuse someone of a crime and you know that's not true - that can be criminalized and is a first degree misdemeanor," said attorney Eric Schwartzreich.
Miami-Dade County does have a social media policy.
Karla Damian, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade's Department of Transportation and Public Works, wrote in an email to Local 10 that a county employee "is required to reflect well on the County government by acting in a positive and responsible manner in his/her social media activities at all times. Inappropriate postings or communication on social media that include discriminatory remarks, harassment, bullying, threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct constitutes conduct unbecoming a public employee. These actions, committed on or off duty, may subject an employee to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Internally, the Department of Transportation and Public Works will be investigating this alleged incident and will determine what, if any, disciplinary actions will be taken regarding Mr. Novoa's post," wrote spokesperson Karla Damian.
Many people turn to social media to learn about crime in their communities and share news of potential suspicious activity.
But it's not always easy to tell if the information is accurate or even real.
"It's a lesson. You need to be careful about what you post on Facebook," Schwartzreich said.
Even though the post about Gildelreal's van has been taken down, he said he is still living in fear.
He plea: beware before you share
“You could ruin somebody’s life - reputation - relationship - career,” Gildelreal said. “Do your homework. Read up on it. See if it’s true. There’s a lot of fake news on social media.”
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