Opinion - Why You Should Leave Reporting Crime On Social Media To The Professionals

Shelby Chiles

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not reflect those of any other people, companies, or organizations that she may or may not currently or previously be associated with in either a personal or professional capacity unless explicitly stated otherwise. Views and opinions are not intended to single out or malign any religion, ethnic group, protected class, club, organization, institution, company, or individual.

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Why shouldn't we use social media to alert our neighbors of potential criminal activity in the area?

This is one of my pet peeves, so I am going to be brutally honest and lay it all out there for you because I have seen cases blown by people with loose lips after years of investigations:

  1. You could unknowingly be hampering an ongoing investigation in progress;
  2. You could potentially blow the cover off of an operation;
  3. You could unknowingly out a CI (Informant) or UC (Undercover), placing their lives, as well as their family and friends in danger;
  4. If you feel as though it is important enough to alert hundreds, potentially thousands, of people in your area to a certain behavior or activity, don't you think it warrants alerting law enforcement?
  5. Things that happen in cyberspace are forever and the more details you give in a "public" setting, the more likely you are to be targeted;
  6. Oversharing can sometimes land you in jail;
  7. You can potentially be sued even if your claims are true and if the case is unfounded, lawsuits cost money;
  8. Social media activity can pose a threat to prosecution and the right to a fair trial through practices such as sharing photos prior to an indictment, creation of hate groups, or jurors sharing their thoughts about a case online (BIG no-no);
  9. Social media is also being used to as a tool for victim-blaming and shaming;
  10. Social media can be weaponized against crime victim's and their families that are exposed to secondary victimization (there is a LOT of that currently occurring); and
  11. There is a difference between being helpful and gossiping.

While our technology drives the way most of us live our lives and the reach that social media provides is absolutely unprecedented and more powerful than ever before, it’s more important than ever to be careful of what you say and do online, while keeping in mind that nothing is truly private or protected. Once something is out there in cyberspace, it is out there forever.

Here is the bottom line:

  1. If you think it is important enough to tell hundreds of people about online, you should likely call;
  2. If you feel as though someone is in imminent danger, you should call 911 immediately; and
  3. If you merely find something "odd" that is what incident reports are for.

I understand that by posting you are attempting to be a good neighbor, citizen, and protect others, but it often comes with unintended consequences - most that you won't ever know about.

But, Shelby, aren't there exceptions?

Yes, there is almost always an exception:

  1. If it has been placed on a verified law enforcement social media account, please share it. That is when it is a great time to amplify one another's voices and use the power of the internet.
  2. If it is on Ring or Neighbors, please share that as well. You are probably asking what the difference is between them and all of the other apps. Ring and Neighbors are closely monitored, everyone that posts is “anonymous”, and there is a law enforcement presence. It is not the proper way to report crime just because some municipalities read the posts and even comment.
  3. Since time is always of the essence with lost, missing, and runaway children and/or other high risk endangered populations, I always make an exception for those; however, I only share the original post from the family member. This helps alleviate confusion months, and even years, later after the person has returned home.

By sharing the original posts, you are able to see pertinent updates and developments. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked to share a post about a runaway that is several years old and upon investigation I discovered they are safely home. I will take that outcome every time; however, better practices should guard against it occuring. Alternatively, I have read about active shooters, lockdowns, and hostage situations that were all resolved by the time I read about them.

Please be careful with your posts. Remember that the internet doesn't forget.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at askshelbyanything@gmail.com.

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Shelby has lived in DFW her entire life. She has various interests and professional experience. Shelby became a published Author for the first time over thirty years ago and she has not stopped writing since. askshelbyanything@gmail.com

Little Elm, TX
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