Local family 'devastated', police frustrated by ill-advised Facebook post
Kootenay residents got an object lesson in the potential hazards of social media this week after a Facebook post damaged a Trail man’s reputation – possibly irreparably – spreading at least as far as Alberta, according to RCMP Cpl. Darryl Orr.
Orr said two girls perceived a local man’s behaviour as suspicious, believing he was watching them and perhaps photographing him from his seat in a local fast food restaurant. They (correctly) reported him to police, but then also posted a video of him to Facebook, wanting to identify him and warning young women to be wary of him.
“Posting a video for the public has you conducting your own investigation – that’s what we should be doing. Let us do our job,” he said. “Certainly, if they had consulted us, we would have strongly advised against doing this.”
He said the video was so widely shared that he even, the next morning, received an upset phone call from the man’s daughter in Alberta who had, herself, seen it. The man had already called in and identified himself, and police were able to find no hint of wrong-doing or questionable behaviour on his part – he was merely enjoying a coffee at a local eatery.
“I don’t think the girls’ intentions were wrong – I don’t think they took into account where this was going to go, how far it was going to go, and how quickly,” he said. “I think everyone who has used social media has some kind of regret – they’re not thinking about tomorrow, they’re thinking about today.
“And all of sudden, the story gets embellished and changes and morphs,” he said. “He and his family were devastated. He’s a local, upstanding guy who raised his family here … and this can’t be undone. How many people saw those postings? And people are going to judge based on that, regardless what the facts are, it’s human nature.
“He and his family are going to be left to cope with the suspicion and judgment this created.”
Setting aside, for a moment, the significant human cost, Orr also pointed out that what should have been a brief investigation into a non-criminal situation ended up taking four days of police time that would have been better spent investigating actual crime.
“That’s time, that’s money – we have better things to do than social networking exercises,” he said, adding the situation blew up into a public relations fiasco that required exorbitant amounts of police resources.
When all is said and done, he added, police can issue a release explaining the man has been cleared of any wrong-doing – but it likely will do little to mitigate the humiliation this man and his family are now facing, given the power and reach of social media.
The solution, he said, is simple.
“When in doubt, don’t post it.”