A Florida sheriff's office made the decision to stop allowing comments on its popular social media accounts altogether, citing concerns that critical crime tips submitted through Facebook and other platforms might get missed.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco explained in a message on Monday that he made decision to pull the comment capabilities on the office's posts after his three-person media team began posting more notices about missing persons and runaways, and followers were increasingly leaving tips on platforms rather than calling them in through the appropriate channels. Nocco reiterated that it was "not a decision we take lightly."
The sheriff's office has placed a major focus on stopping human trafficking, and its Missing and Abducted Child Team was recently re-certified by the U.S. Department of Justice – meaning they adhere to "the highest standards of responding to endangered or abducted children cases."
Social media can be a critical and powerful tool for getting the word out on cases. But Nocco said hurtful comments in a public forum could also deter people from coming forward when they really need help from law enforcement.
"Though this was not the reason for this decision, there has also been an unfortunate growth in negative and hurtful comments, especially directed to runaways," Nocco wrote in his post. "I saw too often commentary on these individuals which was hurtful to those individuals and their families who are often looking for needed assistance."
"It is my belief, that those type of comments could have a chilling effect on people being willing to report their loved one missing," the sheriff explained, telling followers, "Imagine, just for a moment, if that was your loved one that had gone missing and you are desperate to find them but, instead of seeing help, you see commentary asking about their upbringing, their looks or the type of picture that was provided to law enforcement."
He added, "I shudder to think of a scenario where a family may attempt to find their loved one on their own, for fear of the repercussion that these negative comments could have, only to wait too long to alert law enforcement and a tragic situation occurs."
The Tampa Bay Times reported that the Pasco County Sheriff's Office had "fallen victim to its own success" after attracting an outsized social media audience with "often snarky and sometimes controversial" posts that helped them reach "social media stardom."
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has 300,00 Facebook followers, 131,200 Twitter followers, and 76,900 followers on Instagram.