Officers must deal with new world of social media
Police officials say social media is an aggravation.
“We’re constantly getting calls relating to social media,” said Rockmart Police Chief Keith Sorrells. “The majority of it is harassment calls.”
Sorrells said there aren’t a concrete number of incidents related to Facebook posts, tweets, and texts. He said, many times, the officer doesn’t know what stemmed an incident until he or she starts questioning those at the scene.
“A lot of them come in as a domestic or a fight. Once you get into it, and the rest of the narrative, it started with Facebook or a text,” Sorrells said.
Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd said his department has seen a rise in incidents stemming from an online argument or comments made about others online. He can’t determine when the trend started, but said it has been getting worse over the past couple of years as more people go online.
“We get complaints all the time about statements made on Facebook or bullying on Facebook,” Dodd said.
A look at the county police reports shows the trend. There are, on average, two reports a week dealing with comments on social media.
Dodd said most of what his officers deal with doesn’t escalate to an assault or other serious reaction, but situations can get heated.
“People can get on now and say anything without any recourse. People take offense to it. That’s the world we live in,” Dodd said. Sorrells agreed. “Whether things said are intended or not, there are folks who take things to heart,” he said.
Sorrells said there are two main culprits of social media harassment and arguments.
“Facebook generates calls for us, for sure. Texting is another,” he said.
Sorrells said many people will send threats by text rather than through public means. For police, that’s better because it can be directly associated with a person through a phone number.
Dodd said finding out who is doing the bullying is much harder online because some statements are made anonymously on threads, he said. Police would have to get a court subpoena to get the computer address from those posting and that cost is between $75 to $125 a subpoena.
“Then you can’t do anything with it. If it’s in a house where several people use the computer or on a public wifi at a coffee shop, you can’t prove who sent it. It’s an impossible crime to solve,” Dodd said.
Sorrells, who said he has never participated in social media and never intends to, said people should do what they can to protect themselves online.
“My understanding is you can block people. That’s what I would do,” he said.