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Law enforcement using social media, talking directly to community

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

Hashtags relating to the conflict in Ferguson, Missouri have been trending on Twitter for the last several days after the shooting death of Michael Brown. Social media users around the world are showing no of slowing down their tweets and Facebook posts about the conflict.

The St. Louis County Police Department, the agency involved, has been active on Twitter since the incident on Aug. 9. Officials are even responding to tweets, working to dispel rumors circulating which at one time included the wrong identity for the officer involved.

"Social media is driven by emotion and so people are a lot more likely to share something that they care about," said Ashley T. Caldwell, CEO of Modern Connection, a Charleston social media and digital marketing agency.

Caldwell has been watching the Ferguson case unravel on the web - with potential evidence, factual and not-so factual information swirling.

"As citizens, we can control what we share," said Caldwell.

In times of conflict, social media can have a huge impact and citizens need to be aware of how they're getting involved, said Caldwell.

Caldwell said before sharing, social media users should investigate if the information is coming from a reputable source.

"I think it presents a problem when people don't realize they have evidence of a crime," said Mount Pleasant Police Inspector Chip Googe.

Googe said overall their agency considers social media a benefit when handling crimes. His department uses Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, to talk to the people they serve.

"It presents it's own challenges but also gives us the ability to actually interact with the citizens that we serve," said Googe.

One thing both Caldwell and Googe agree on is when a high profile case has happened, the law enforcement agency involved needs to say something.

"They should still say 'we are working on this case' or 'we are gathering evidence' or if they're able to dispel any rumors that they know are being said," said Caldwell.

"We would put out there that 'we're trying' to 'give us time to look into the investigation and we will release it a soon as possible'," said Googe.

According to Googe, the demand for information on social media, like in the Ferguson case, will not effect how quickly his department releases it.

"I think it's more important for us to give accurate information than it is to be the first to give information out," said Googe. "We put it out as fast as we can."

Googe said when they can prove the information is accurate and not hurting their investigation, Twitter and Facebook make it easy to get the information straight to the people.

"Now, they're able to ask us questions, back and forth, and it's allowing us to open a dialogue that we wouldnt had in the past," said Googe.

Mount Pleasant Police Department also uses the VizSafe smartphone app that allows citizens to send videos or pictures of any suspicious activity directly to authorities.

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