Authorities: Facebook 'misinformation' a growing problem

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Updated: 7/01/2013 11:08 pm
RIPLEY, Miss. (WTVA) -- Have you ever seen this quote online?

"The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it's difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine."

According to social media, Abraham Lincoln said that -- no, wait, no he didn't!

That faux quote echoes a problem authorities face: a good portion of the junk in that Facebook news feed isn't verified.

Tippah County Investigator Josh Bateman said that poses a problem because -- for law enforcement -- that could be dangerous.

"In south Mississippi last year, there was an investigator killed in the line of duty for pretty much the same thing that we're talking about here," Bateman said. "There was a social media leak, and the guy knew that [authorities] were coming."

Bateman also points to a case where a person of interest's picture and description was posted to Facebook, indicating authorities were supposedly searching for him.

They were not, but users took that unverified post and shared it more than two-thousand times.

"Now, he has a heads up, so...who knows where this guy could be now? We kinda hit a snag there because someone posted something on a social media site, and it just blew up." Bateman said.

Some in law enforcement set up official pages to get credible information out to the public, like Monroe County Coroner Alan Gurley, who runs the Monroe County Facebook Watch fan page.

"We try to be very careful about things that are posted by individuals, because a lot of people get into civil disputes, parental disputes, that kind of thing," Gurley said. "We've even had things posted where kids were kidnapped when in fact they were not kidnapped."

That being said, it's incredibly easy to point, click, drag a picture in and post something that's false.

It's even easier to share it once it's been posted, even if that person hasn't taken the time to see if it's true.

Gurley said he doesn't want information -- like an accident victim's name -- leaked before officials release it, and his reason for that is very personal.

"My daughter was killed in a car accident," Gurley said. "Worst thing in the world would have been for me to find out over Facebook that my daughter was injured or killed."

Experts say as users on Facebook and other social media sites share more information, this problem will only increase.

Those who see something online and suspect it's false can do something about it, however.

Posts and status messages can be reported to Facebook by clicking the arrow next to the post itself.

If the information is from an individual instead of a news organization or law enforcement agency, experts ask that people use caution with that information.
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