This Wednesday, April 26, 2017, photo shows the Twitter app on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke

This Wednesday, April 26, 2017, photo shows the Twitter app on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke

‘Tips on steroids:’ Social media both a help, hurdle for Canadian police investigations

More than 1,000 tips were received by police in the hunt for fugitives Kam McLeod, Bryer Schmegelsky

Social media can help or hurt police investigations such as the one into three homicides in northern B.C., says a criminologist.

Frank Cormier, head of the sociology and criminology department at the University of Manitoba, says police have started using social media as a way to get their message out.

“It can be fairly effective as a tool,” he said in an interview. “Like any newer technology, it’s always a double-edged sword.”

RCMP confirmed earlier this week that two bodies found in the dense brush outside of Gillam, Man., were those of Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, suspected of killing a young tourist couple and a botanist in B.C. last month.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett told a news conference in B.C. last week that media coverage and public engagement were key to the public’s level of awareness.

“(It) resulted in police receiving a consistent stream of information and over 1,000 tips,” he said.

ALSO READ: Photo spreading online is not B.C. fugitive Kam McLeod, says RCMP

Hackett didn’t elaborate on how the tips came in or where they came from, and no one from the RCMP responded to an interview request.

The Ontario Provincial Police had assigned a team of investigators earlier this month to look into the 100-plus tips about the fugitives in that province.

“It was a combination of a lot of things,” said Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne. “One (was) the coverage in the media, knowing that these two suspects were wanted and running away from police. And then you (had) the indication that they were moving east.”

Dionne said the provincial police don’t take tips on social media, but received calls from people reporting comments that they had seen on Facebook or Twitter.

“They would say, ‘Yeah, I think I’ve seen them,’ and then people would come to us and say, ‘So and so said this on their social media account’ and then we get it third hand.”

Peter German, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, said it’s clear that virtually every one of the tips about the case was incorrect.

READ MORE: Motive will be ‘extremely difficult’ to determine in northern B.C. deaths

“That speaks to the issue that police have these days with social media,” he said. “The other thing … is that most of those people really believed that they saw them and that speaks to eye witness identification, which can be so faulty.

“That is a huge issue that police have to deal with … it’s the one that you don’t follow up that ends up being the critical one, and the question will then be asked: ‘Why didn’t you?’”

German said social media has facilitated what’s become ”tips on steroids.”

Several warnings from police and the federal public safety minister telling Canadians to be on alert for Schmegelsky and McLeod made people extra vigilant and led to even more tips, both German and Dionne said.

“Going through all those tips then means more resources,” said Dionne. “If you put in more people to triage, then it means you have less people out there.”

Dionne stressed that police want people to report what they see because it could be the tip that matters to the investigation. A sighting in Meadow Lake, Sask., for instance, helped police identify Schmegelsky and McLeod as suspects rather than missing persons.

Cormier said the large number of tips shows how intensely the public was tuned into the case.

“Any story that catches the attention of social media becomes multiplied,” he said. “It can magnify people’s emotional response and that can lead people to be a little bit caught up and police can be flooded with speculation.

“They are people who want to help, but they become a little caught up in the excitement of the story.”

In some cases, he said, there are also people who feed false rumours and lies.

“They’ll just make things up,” said Cormier. “We have trolls everywhere. They take great delight in messing with various processes and procedures.”

It’s easy to see both sides, he said.

“Social media makes it so much easier, but it can obviously also be a bad thing in some cases.”

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Manitoba Manhunt

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Port Alberni Train Station is located outside the entrance to Harbour Quay, on Harbour Road in Port Alberni. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Port Alberni gets funding to restore heritage train station

Historic train station needs seismic upgrades

Raw logs are loaded onto a logging ship from a log sort down the Alberni Inlet in March 2019. SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News
Port Alberni light on industrial land

Report finds few suitable locations for new industry

Cowichan Valley writer Jennifer Manuel will headlining YakFest on March 1. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Cowichan Valley writer to headline next YakFest on March 1

YakFest is a B.C.-based monthly women’s event held online via Zoom

The North Island College campus in Port Alberni is located on Roger Street. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
North Island College plans tourism networking event

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on Vancouver Island’s tourism industry

Members of Alberni Valley Rescue Squad were at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020 to practice helicopter hover exit training with Ascent Helicopters out of Parksville. When executing a search in difficult terrain, it isn’t always possible to land a helicopter, so volunteer searchers must be certified in hover exits. (BILL MCLEOD/ Special to the AV News)
Alberni Valley Rescue Society receives much-needed $40K gaming grant

Bamfield volunteer fire department also funded

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Chemainus Secondary School 2020 graduate Wayne Allen with dad Glenn Allen and other family members at ceremonies last June. (Photo by Siobhan Anderson)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Police in Nanaimo found multiple graffiti tags they allege were made by three men arrested for mischief in Maffeo Sutton Park on Feb. 15. (Photo submitted)
Graffiti taggers caught in Nanaimo with paint on their hands

Three suspects arrested at Maffeo Sutton Park last week

An official investigation will be launched after VPD officers were recorded posing near a dead body at Third Beach on Wednesday morning, Feb. 24. (Screen grab/Zachary Ratcliff)
VIDEO: Vancouver officers under review for allegedly laughing, taking pictures next to dead body

Two officers were caught on video by a local beachgoer Wednesday morning in Stanley Park

Kim McGregor died in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run accident in Chemainus. (Photo submitted)
Victim identified in Valentine’s Day Chemainus hit-and-run

Kim McGregor grew up in Chemainus and had recently returned to be close to his parents

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
‘Stay local’: Dr. Henry shoots down spring break travel for British Columbians

B.C. is reportedly working with other provincial governments to determine March break policies

“Our biggest challenge has been the amount of vaccine,” said FNHA acting chief medical officer Dr. Shannon McDonald. (First Nations Health Authority Facebook photo)
All First Nations on reserve to be vaccinated by end of March: First Nations Health Authority

Vaccinations continuing for B.C. First Nations amid shortages

(Delta Police Department photo)
B.C. youth calls 911 after accruing $7K in online gaming charges

‘Police spoke with the student about appropriate times to call 911’

Most Read