As people continue to turn more and more to social media for information, police from Lake Illawarra Local Area Command have said platforms such as Facebook can both help and hinder missing person investigations.
The issue was brought to the fore in the region after it was used during the search for 19-year-old Kiama man Scott Carrigan recently.
A Facebook page called Help Us Find Scott Carrigan set up the day after he went missing attracted more than 12,000 likes in less than a week.
‘‘If there’s an emergency it should always be referred to the lead agency, in the case of a missing person that agency is the police.''
In the wake of National missing Persons Week (Sunday August 3 to Saturday August 9), Lake Illawarra Local Area Command community safety officer Sergeant Jason Harrison said if used responsibly social could have a positive effect in missing person cases.
‘‘In some ways it’s no different to sticking a poster up on a pole with a picture on it like people have been doing for years, in that sense of getting the message out there, it can be be a positive,’’ Sergeant Harrison said.
‘‘But a page that’s been set up needs to be operated in a sensible and level-headed way, it should only be used a reference point and as a way of getting information out to people.’’
Sergeant Harrison said social media should never be used as a substitute for contacting the relevant emergency service.
‘‘If there’s an emergency it should always be referred to the lead agency, in the case of a missing person that agency is the police.
‘‘Anything, whether it’s reporting a missing person or information on a missing person shouldn’t be done through social media, it’s not always monitored and comment or post can easily slip through the cracks.
‘‘We need to talk to people and get their details and that helps us to determine if what they’re reporting is genuine and how we should go about following that up.’’
Sergeant Harrison also said that NSW police Facebook pages and other social media platforms should only be used as information sources
‘‘What we put up on Facebook is a statement that we stand by, when people start commenting an trying to amend that information is when people start getting distracted from the real information that we’re trying to get out to people.’’
On July 30 Mr Carrigan’s body was discovered in a car in Kiama Harbour. A trust fund has been established to help his family.