Police: Be wary of social media
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.”