At the Feb. 19 meeting of the University Place City Council, U.P. Police Chief Mike Blair provided a Public Safety Report that included important information about the impacts of social media on perceptions—and misinformation—about crime and public safety.
“Social media has no vetting method,” Blair said. “It is a tool for friendship, not for crime reporting.” To drive home that point, Blair cited three major incidents in 2018 where social media distorted perceptions of crime in University Place. Those included a potential threat posted on social media by a U.P. student; how the Next Door app allows unverified facts about crime to fuel the rumor mill and stoke fear; and a recent news story about U.P.’s safety ranking among other cities in Washington.
Blair noted that the story was based on data provided by a conglomerate of alarm companies, not law enforcement agencies. “When we applied our data to the very same information they cited, we rank in the top third of the safest cities in the state,” Blair said. It is a perfect example of how information can be distorted if not presented with adequate background and context.
“That is why I always encourage people to come to us directly if they have questions or concerns,” Blair said. “I’m happy to talk to you on the phone or in person or to neighborhood groups. We just want people to get their information from us directly and to understand that not every incident is hashtag-worthy.”