How fake news culture and technology played out in a suspicious Lake Country incident

Suspicious minds in Lake Country a sign of the times
Watch: Suspicious minds in Lake Country a sign of the times.

After police appealed to the public for help in identifying a man in Lake Country, B.C., who allegedly took pictures of a woman walking alone, it turned out that both parties were suspicious of each other.

Police are now calling the incident a misunderstanding, but it’s a case University of British Columbia Okanagan assistant professor Eric Li believes says a lot about how we interact with technology — and each other.

The incident happened near the intersection of Davidson and Artela roads in Lake Country on Sunday evening.

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A woman was walking alone when a man in a vehicle allegedly took pictures of her.

She was concerned enough to call police, who put out a public appeal for information.

However, when the man came forward and spoke to RCMP, it turned out he had taken the photos because he was also suspicious of the pedestrian.

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Li, whose research interests includes online behaviour, pointed out that in the pre-smartphone era, they might have spoken to each other.

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“Before digital devices, you probably would approach the lady and say: ‘How is it going? Do you need help?'” Li said.

“Now, you think, ‘Well, maybe (I’ll) pull out my digital devices and take pictures… If there is anything happening, that would be the evidence.”

Li said in our culture today, evidence is what people are looking for — without proof, an anecdote can be seen as “fake news.”

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“Nowadays, our society really requires more and more evidence,” Li said.

“Videos, pictures now have become the most popular evidence in the social media (world) or in our digital world because seeing is believing.”

Meanwhile, from a police perspective, this case shouldn’t stop people from reporting suspicious activity.

“I think the RCMP would recommend that everyone trust their instincts. A lot of people will know when they should be calling police,” Kelowna RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey said.

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However, O’Donaghey said if you are suspicious enough to take a picture, you should call RCMP as well.

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“You may have very well come across an individual that we are already searching for,” O’Donaghey said.

“You may have more information for us that could help us advance other ongoing investigations.”

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Li said we all need to be accountable for what we do online and off because once pictures and video are on the web, those posts can take on a life of their own.

“(People) pull out their cellphones and take pictures without asking, they post it online, people start commenting, some (comments) might go in a very good direction, some might go in a very negative direction,” Li said.

For better or worse, this Lake Country incident is a sign of a culture where people feel they need to document, while those being documented become wary of ending up online.