Local police say social media impacting investigations

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – In today’s world, we’re turning to social media more often as a way of disseminating information to a large number of people in a short amount of time.

For example, police departments use Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to help solve crimes.

“Now so many of our kids and our public, in general, are tapped into social media,” said Canfield Police Detective Josh Wells.

But what happens when the wrong information is passed along, such as Sunday’s murder posted to Facebook in Cleveland?

Investigators said Steve Stephens uploaded a video to Facebook showing himself shooting a Cleveland retiree who was collecting cans in the area. The victim died as a result of the shooting, and Stephens remained at large on Monday afternoon.

News media and blog sites incorrectly posted the crime had been committed live and then gave the wrong description of the suspect’s vehicle. Overnight, there were multiple postings about online savings accounts set up for the victim’s family — none of which were accurate.

Monday morning, Cleveland’s mayor said the false stories were creating confusion.

“What we want to encourage people to do is not make things up as they go along,” Mayor Frank Jackson said.

Local authorities said misinformation tends to be spread in such situations.

“Many times, it can blow many situations out of proportion. Many times, the news is not accurate that’s coming from social media, so you really have to look at everything with a filter, so to speak,” said Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene.

Police say viewers need to exercise their own judgment in separating reports that are accurate from one’s that aren’t.

“You know, if that information is inaccurate or just plain wrong, that’s a lot of information being sent out to a lot of different people all at once, and we have no way of monitoring all that activity while we’re trying to do our jobs,” Detective Wells said.

While police around the country are looking for Stephens, one local counselor said the trend toward using social media as a way to show off violent behavior may be based on the need in some to upstage others.

“We up the ante, we up all the posts and ‘How can I make myself look better than them?’ And I think it just gets more outrageous,” said Jennifer Palumbo, with Churchill Counseling.

Palumbo said while Sunday’s post may cause some to rethink what they share online, she wonders if the addictive behavior won’t simply feed on itself.

“There’s got to be somebody that’s saying, ‘Hey, if he did that, what can I do to get that kind of recognition?’ ‘Cause what are we doing? We’re talking about it, and we’re talking about him, and we’re talking about what he did,” she said.