There’s no doubt that social media offers a way to spread information quickly. Unfortunately, quickly does not mean accurately.
Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson issued a press release March 3 outlining one example of how irresponsible use of social media caused unnecessary alarm among people who saw the inaccurate information.
The sheriff’s office investigated a report of an attempted kidnapping in a parking lot adjacent to some businesses in Chanhassen.
The woman who reported the incident said she read about it on social media.
During the investigation, the sheriff’s office learned a citizen had posted a report of the alleged kidnapping on a neighborhood website that is used as an online bulletin board for neighbors to share information.
The sheriff’s office also learned that the alleged kidnapping had not been reported to law enforcement.
According to the release, deputies were able to identify the person who posted the content and interviewed her.
The woman stated she had posted information shared with her by the alleged victim of the kidnapping attempt. She believed she was sharing the information in good faith, but without knowing all the facts.
Deputies then contacted the alleged victim and learned that there had been no attempted kidnapping.
The alleged victim told deputies she had observed “suspicious behavior” in the parking lot, but she had, in fact, not been assaulted, threatened, or harmed in any way.
She acknowledged she had mentioned the incident to a co-worker who misconstrued the information and posted incorrect information on the neighborhood website.
The good news is that there was no attempted kidnapping and no one was injured.
The bad news, as Sheriff Olson observed, is that many people in the community were unnecessarily alarmed because of this posting.
It is, perhaps, understandable that when people hear something that concerns them, they may want to warn others.
However, taking the time to verify information can mean the difference between performing a public service and creating an unnecessary problem.
In this case, not only were people unnecessarily subjected to inaccurate information, but the sheriff’s office was compelled to expend public resources investigating the false report.
People today are too quick to leap to their computers and spread content without bothering to find out if it is accurate.
If people do observe what they believe to be illegal activity, they should go through proper channels and report the matter to the local law enforcement agency.
If there is a threat to the public, law enforcement has the tools to disseminate the facts appropriately to those who need to know.
Good intentions are not enough. We need to make good decisions when it comes to spreading information.
The speed at which information travels today can be a benefit or a curse, and once it has been sent we can never get it back.