Po­lice: Be wary of so­cial me­dia

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News -

Po­lice have urged peo­ple to be aware of the po­ten­tial of cre­at­ing wide­spread stress and hys­te­ria when us­ing so­cial me­dia to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion.

Hor­sham Se­nior Sergeant Mick Sal­ter in­stead en­cour­aged peo­ple to stay alert and con­tinue to be willing to share in­for­ma­tion about suspicious ac­tiv­ity by get­ting in touch with author­i­ties.

Sen Sgt Sal­ter made the com­ments af­ter in-depth po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions into cir­cum­stances that set off a se­ries of fran­tic and shared Face­book con­ver­sa­tions re­vealed an ab­sence of any crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

He said the sub­ject of con­cern had been vary­ing and un­sub­stan­ti­ated re­ports last week of a male in a bala­clava ap­proach­ing chil­dren at Hor­sham east schools.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed there was a young male who had per­haps foolishly been wear­ing a bala­clava in the vicin­ity of the school and who had ac­tu­ally spo­ken to a cou­ple of chil­dren. There were no of­fences com­mit­ted what­so­ever,” he said.

“It was of course ap­pro­pri­ate to re­port this type of ac­tiv­ity to po­lice, but at the same time, highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate to spread ru­mours and in­nu­endo that sig­nif­i­cantly em­bel­lished cir­cum- stances through a so­cial-me­dia fo­rum. There were no knives, axes, guns, rob­beries, as­saults or any­thing of the kind – in­for­ma­tion that was sug­gested through the Face­book posts and then read­ily shared, re­sulted in high lev­els of anx­i­ety and fear.”

Sen Sgt Sal­ter said he un­der­stood that na­tional cir­cum­stances in­volv­ing home in­va­sion and ter­ror ac­tiv­i­ties had many peo­ple wary and on edge, but there were ap­pro­pri­ate cour­ses of ac­tion peo­ple could fol­low.

“A key mes­sage from po­lice is to stay alert, but also avoid the temp­ta­tion to ex­press details in open fo­rums such as so­cial me­dia be­fore re­port­ing to or dis­cussing cir­cum­stances with author­i­ties,” he said.

“In cir­cum­stances last week, we ul­ti­mately re­ceived a call from some­one in the com­mu­nity who took the right course of ac­tion and that meant we were able to re­spond.

“All that is re­quired is a phone call and if you be­lieve it is of a se­ri­ous and im­me­di­ate na­ture dial triple zero.

“Po­lice and emer­gency ser­vices take all calls se­ri­ously and re­spond quickly, as we did last week.

“But we can­not act on hearsay, es­pe­cially through un­re­li­able medi­ums such as so­cial me­dia.

“It is also in­ap­pro­pri­ate to dis­cuss op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­ity on these open chat sites.”

Sen Sgt Sal­ter said peo­ple needed to un­der­stand the risks of set­ting off se­ri­ous chains of events in shar­ing un­sub­stan­ti­ated in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia.

“We’ve man­aged to al­lay a lot fears but there are still peo­ple con­cerned about in­for­ma­tion still float­ing on Face­book,” he said.

“Apart from gen­er­at­ing anx­i­ety, this can lead to iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of in­di­vid­u­als and false ac­cu­sa­tions that can lead to a va­ri­ety of other is­sues. So again, we stress – stay alert and if you see some­thing suspicious, call the po­lice.”

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