Genoa City incident highlights possibilities, pitfalls of Facebook
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Genoa City residents shared information and comments on Facebook about a suspicious incident this summer. Village Police Chief Ralph Bauman said the social network can be valuable for sharing information — if the information is accurate. Terry Mayer/photo illustration.
GENOA CITY — As social networking site with some 500 million users, Facebook is touted as the ideal place to share photos of a family vacation, post a few lines about a new job or catch up with a college roommate.
But can it operate as a venue for harder news? And should it?
Facebook aims to connect like-minded people who would typically share the same concerns and be interested in the same news.
“I’ve heard what’s going on in Facebook called a hyper-personalized news stream,” said Spencer Striker, a faculty member of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Department of Media Arts and Game Development. “Basically, the news has become social and localized.”
When Cassie Veldhuizen of Genoa City spotted a posting on a friend’s Facebook page that talked about a possible attempted child abduction this summer, she reposted it on her own her Facebook page in hopes of alerting other residents.
The post drew a number of comments, like “Yikes, that’s creepy” and “Holy Cow! Thanks for the info! This is terribly scary!”
“I believe Facebook is a fantastic way to communicate these days with everyone’s crazy schedules,” said Tammy Soderberg, the mother of three young children and another Genoa City resident who saw the Aug. 30 posting. “Everyone is so busy.”
Genoa City Police Chief Ralph Bauman thinks neighbors alerting each other to potential trouble — like a con man making his way around the area, or an Internet scam — is a good idea. But using a social network to report incidents like a possible child abduction attempt can be “problematic,” he said.
Bauman’s concerns are underscored in the Genoa City police department’s report of the Aug. 16 incident. The report noted that the driver who passed the 8-year-old girl stopped the car and opened his back door. Then he closed the door and drove off.
The girl never indicated that the driver spoke, motioned or reached for her — something that the Facebook posting implies actually did happen.
Bauman noted that people who want to check on the accuracy of a report like an abduction can always call the police department.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Bauman said.
Read the full story in the Oct. 3, 2010 e-edition of Walworth County Sunday, HERE.