Thursday, August 12, 2010

Intersection 08: They sure don’t make “wanted” signs like they used to

A couple of weeks back, there was this news about the police apprehending a suspect in a carefully planned operation. Journalistically, there was nothing newsworthy about this, and at best, it would be a filler in any spread. But what made this news was the Facebook element: they found the guy in the popular social networking site, added him as a friend, and eventually lured him out into the real world and into their very hands. By the time he sensed something was up, it was too late. The cops slapped the bracelets on, and they made the trip to the station.

Perhaps egged on by this story, the Laguna police created an account on Facebook in which they posted their most wanted list per city/municipality, complete with pictures (well, some of them anyway). According the news reports, the police only posted the pictures of those who have outstanding arrest warrants and ongoing cases in court. The idea is to enlist the help of the (online) community in apprehending these people. The contact details of the Laguna police can be found in the account, and anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of these most wanted persons are encouraged to give them a ring. The Facebook account, they say, is intended to complement the “wanted” signs that the police regularly publish and post.

How successful will this experiment be, no one knows. But it does raise curious questions this early. The very nature of Facebook allows just about any person out there to make an account and mimic what the Laguna police has just done. How, then, does one know if an account is that of the police, or that of a con? How does one know if these “wanted” persons are indeed “wanted” for the “crimes” or “cases” they are facing in “courts”? Does this raise privacy issues? How would the courts treat this, should this become relevant and material to the case? Do we have laws in place that would regulate such use in judicial proceedings?

One thing appears to be sure. The account already has over six thousand fans, and, if one follows the comments, it is stirring up conversation in the social networking site. A few commended the police, and a few expressed their desire that their local police force do the same. A few commented that they actually know some of the persons on the list, and may contact the police in the coming days. A few made suggestions to improve the account (e.g., post updated photos of these persons, or, well, simply post photos). And a few merely heckled, with some of whom posting rather insensitive and mean remarks. In sum, the account has become a conversation piece for the online social networking community. And much like most conversations in that community, the quality of the same leaves much to be desired.

But then again, the same type of conversations or utterances ensues when an actual “most wanted” list is posted in public places anyway. Tongues will wag one way or the other. I guess one can say that there has been simply a mere change in medium.

-- William G. Ragamat

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