The Queensland Police social media strategy came seriously unstuck this weekend as a wave of prejudicial comments resulting from its FaceBook site threatened the prosecution of an alleged child killer.
The site had earlier announced a breakthrough in the eight year investigation of the disappearance of Daniel Morcombe. The thirteen year old vanished while waiting for a bus along Nambour Connection Road in Woombye, under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass, on December 7, 2003, sparking the biggest missing-person investigation in Queensland Police history. Police announced that a 41 year old man had been charged with one count each of murder, deprivation of liberty, child stealing, indecent treatment of a child under 16 and interfering with a corpse.
The case, which included many police media appeals for help from the public, generated enormous, almost continuous media interest. The Police Facebook posting about an arrest immediately sparked hundreds of comments, which mostly praised the police. But some people apparently went much further. They made angry and speculative claims which might be seen to influence a court case which had not even begun. The Saturday night Police PR shift were forced to post warnings to members of the public.
Some really inappropriate things have been posted on Facebook tonight. We recognise the news we released tonight is a sensitive and at times emotional issue, but we will NOT tolerate abuse, the identification of individuals or speculation on this page. Please think about this before posting again.
Queensland Police Service People are still not listening – please only post ON TOPIC comments that are not abusive or speculative about sentencing etc.
This person still hasn’t been convicted yet, and no idea what the evidence is. So instead of people assuming that an arrest means the person is guilty, wait until the person is tried and found guilty of the crime first.
It appeared that the Police PR team had to try to retrospectively remove prejudicial comments. But not before they were seen by hundreds if not thousands of Queenslanders who could include potential jury members. (The Police site boasts of more than 200,000 likes and is linked to similar sites subsequently created by other state police forces.)
- The fabulous case study of Queensland Police on Facebook (rossdawsonblog.com)
- Morcombe charges laid (theage.com.au)
- Police Facebook wall raises fair trial questions (journlaw)