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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Facebook and crime

Last week, a Pennsylvania home was burglarized and the thief was caught because he had used the homeowner's computer to check his facebook page. This is pretty much an example of sheer idiocy.  However, Facebook does offer the possibility of actively aiding crime solvers.  A few weeks ago I saw the following status alert on a friend's facebook page:

"AMBER ALERT IN OSHWA NY-3 YEAR OLD GIRL TAKEN BY A MAN DRIVING SILVER TRUCK Ontario PLATE # 728 381. If all of you reading my status would copy and paste into your status, it could potentially save a little girl's life."

My first thought was, I live in South Carolina, there's no point in posting this.  However, then I remembered that I do have one friend who lives in upstate New Nork and probably many of my friends on Facebook have a friend who lives in upstate New York and that these friends surely have many friends who also live in upstate New York and who knows, maybe one of those friends is actually onFfacebook right now driving by this very car. After such thoughts, I posted the status alert on my page. A short time later, another friend of mine informed me that it was a hoax and there was no Amber Alert for a three year old girl abducted in Oshwa New York and I took it down.

Should social networking sites be used in situations like child abduction or is the risk of abuse to great?  On the one hand, if there had been an abduction Facebook could have gotten the information out to hundreds or maybe thousands of drivers who could have helped find the abducted child.  On the other hand, encouraging Facebook Amerber alerts could also give a dangerous weapon to anyone with a grudge.  After thinking about it, I have concluded that the benefits outweigh the downsides but I could be convinced the other way as well.  Thoughts? 

Posted by Marcia Zug on September 29, 2009 at 11:22 AM | Permalink


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You could fix the hoax problem by having an application that ties directly into the Amber Alert system. Then people could choose to have it displayed automatically, and it wouldn't even take up the status line.

I think it makes sense to post public service messages where people are actually going to see them.

Posted by: Hanah | Sep 29, 2009 12:03:19 PM

Whoops, read entire post first, then comment.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 29, 2009 11:34:04 AM

Unfortunately, there's another Internet phenomenon at work here, which is that this is a hoax/years-old expired warning. http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/missing/faketext.asp

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 29, 2009 11:31:05 AM

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