Police face the Facebook test

ANECDOTAL evidence suggests social media could impact greatly on policing in the future.

The North Coast's top cop, Assistant Commissioner Carlene York, said the speed at which information was distributed and the number of people who could be contacted through networks such as Facebook had already had some effect on policing.

“The NSW Police Force is doing research into ways of minimising any negative impact of social media with a view particularly to preserving community safety,” Ms York said.

“The security of information on social networking sites is certainly of concern and it is up to us all, police community and government support groups, to be vigilant about the possible targeting of vulnerable people, especially youth.”

Ms York was responding to questions from the Advocate regarding the role of Facebook in a recent violent affray between youth, mostly girls, in Bellingen on March 21.

She said while there were reports of social media-induced violence, as yet there was no clear data to quantify the extent of its effect.

“Any incident with a social media link attracts significant public attention and part of the Police Force's focus is on how to prevent and respond to such incidents,” she said.

“The incident in Bellingen was an isolated one and there are no records of similar incidents in the area in recent times. At the time of the incident police from Bellingen Police Station responded, arresting four young people.”

In response to comments that youth were aware of the inconsistency of the local police presence and organised themselves accordingly, Ms York said the town was policed in a cluster arrangement across the entire Bellinger Valley and Dorrigo.

“This arrangement means police interact with young people across a broader area. The current staffing arrangements are appropriate and there is no proposal to alter these.”

She said increased involvement by the school liaison officer was proposed for Bellingen High School to promote programs to deter the type of behaviour seen in the recent incident. “A recent study by the Australian Communications and Media Authority concludes that young people have a high awareness of cyber safety risks (including online predators and cyber bullying), however acknowledges that some continue to engage in risky behaviour,” Ms York said.

“The report concludes that it is often parents who have a lack of knowledge about the risks of social networking services and do not seek out that information. Often they know little about their children's online behaviour.”

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