Metro Police Departments Trying to Keep Up With Surge of Social Media Information

ALTOONA, Iowa -- Metro area police departments are having a tough time these days keeping up with the pace of information that's being spread on social media about incidents taking place in their communities.

In recent months, there have been some wild rumors spread on Facebook after people rushed to judgment and drew their own conclusions without any facts. All of this occurred before letting investigators do their jobs and put the pieces of the puzzle together.

“In these cases, we have information that`s coming out and the police haven`t had a chance to investigate the situation yet, and the information`s already out on Facebook that it`s this that or other,” said Detective Brett Handy with the Altoona Police Department.

In May, Altoona officers were called to the parking lot area of a Target on a report of two suspicious individuals and a suspicious vehicle.

“The person believed that there was something funny going on and she did what she was supposed to do, call the police when she felt that something wasn`t right,” Handy said. “We investigated it and found out it wasn`t exactly what she thought it was.”

A female shopper thought she was being followed by two men and a post on social media compared the incident to that of a human trafficking incident or attempted abduction situation. However, there was no evidence to support those claims.

“People think in their minds that could this be something other than what it is,” Handy said. “Absolutely, so we don`t want to take that away from anybody, but we also want to make sure that we`re allowed to investigate the situation.”

In April, the Ankeny Police Department investigated a case that involved a woman trying to sell knock off perfume samples at a gas station. A press release stated, "there is absolutely no truth or substantiation that this event was a human trafficking case or attempted kidnapping. We have followed many theories and imaginations via Facebook about this incident that in fact lack credibility."

In both situations, police said the posts on social media caused unnecessary fear.

“Not everything is what it appears to be so it`s getting beyond that scared point and letting the investigators do the job and kind of working with each other,” Handy said. “Tell us what you`ve seen, we`ll investigate it and then we can get the information back to you as far as what had actually had occurred.”

Police say if you see something suspicious, by all means, call them. At the same time, let them do their job and complete their investigation before spreading information on social media about the situation that is not factual.