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Social Media, Scanner Pages, And How Journalists Use Them

Jessica Goodwin was supposed to be married to her fiance Peter Oliver. That is not going to happen now. No, this is not one of those telenovela stories where the to-be-bride found that the man he was engaged to had impregnated another woman. What Goodwin found was more tragic – Oliver is dead. 

Last month, Goodwin got worried after not hearing from Oliver. She did not know where he was or what he was doing. That is until Goodwin saw a post on a Penobscot County scanner page on Facebook saying there was a car crash near where she knew Oliver had been. Goodwin had a hunch, so she followed up on that information with the Maine State Police. The police sent personnel to inform Goodwin that her fiance had indeed passed away due to a car crash.

Social Media, Scanner Pages, And Misinformation

This is a case where Facebook scanner pages have been particularly useful. If it was not for that scanner page, it could have taken a long time before Goodwin learned about her partner's tragic end. 

Unfortunately, cases like this are rare. Most of the time, scanner pages complicate things for police and firefighters. For instance, last year, a suspect received a flurry of calls as detectives talked to him. The calls were from people who found out that the person was being investigated. They called to warn the person. Where did they find the information? In a Bangor scanner page on social media. Thankfully, police were already there before phone calls. If it happened the other way, the suspect could be long gone before the police arrived to get him. That would have slowed down the investigation. 

What Are Scanner Pages?

Police use radio scanners to communicate with each other. The thing is, they are open to the public. People who have police scanners can listen and spy on the conversations. There are also apps on the web that have made police frequencies available. People who know about these can do the same.

Journalists listen to scanner traffic to be up to speed on everything that happened during the investigation or the encounter. On the other hand, others eavesdrop just for the thrill of listening to a car chase or a shootout in real-time. Meanwhile, others do it to put police actions in public.

Scanner pages are social media groups or pages where scanner traffic listeners share what they hear with other people. By posting transcriptions of what they hear, they allow more people to experience what they are experiencing.

People – especially in this era – are information hungry. As much as possible, they want to be in the know of the things happening around them. Thus, the popularity of scanner pages.

Proliferation Of Scanner Pages Promoting Spread Of Misinformation

First responder Sgt. Wade Betters says scanner pages often publish unverified information. As a result, their jobs get harder, and investigations get more complicated than they already are.

They did not quite mind the listeners. But that was before the proliferation of scanner pages on social media platforms. It birthed many challenges that were not there before. For instance, sometimes, people show up in potential crime scenes – causing disruption to operations. 

Social Media, Scanner Pages, And Misinformation

At other times, they spread fake news. Take the 2018 case of former state Rep. Karen Gerrish of Lebanon, for example. A scanner page on Facebook reported that she was found dead and guns had been removed from her home. Some Maine House GOP members saw the post, and they shared it. But as it turned out, that was fake news. Maine State Police then advised people to unfollow said page that produced the false report. 

Jay & Fire Rescue had also given out the same advice to Lewiston residents last month. A local scanner page has apparently spread misinformation on multiple occasions, making the fire department's job difficult. 

Why Journalists use Scanner Pages to help scrape and collect information

The department said that spreading false information negatively affects the police and fire department's job during a scene. It also complicates the investigation that follows. “A lot of calls come in and sound dangerous, and then are found to be completely different or nothing upon investigation,” it adds. The department says that these falsehoods can damage the reputations of people and places.

When asked for a comment, the said Lewiston-area scanner page gave a vague statement. It said that first responders are trying to hide the “truth they want to conceal about the crimes and corruption of the society.” The administrator did not expand on that and did not respond to a follow-up message.

Lewiston's interim police chief, Lt. Dave St. Pierre, says scanner pages often “grossly exaggerate” events. Furthermore, he says they do this just to get reactions – which is what social media is all about. This behavior triggers a disproportionate amount of panic. On top of that, it threatens the integrity of investigations. Therefore, scanner pages that publish unverified or false information must be shut down.

As a countermeasure, agencies have now begun encrypting their frequencies to prevent false reporting. But Pierre says the encryption system the Lewiston Police Department has adopted is yet to prove its effectiveness. 

Bangor police, on the other hand, haven't encrypted their radio calls due to technological constraints. But that does not mean they did nothing to combat fake news-spreading scanner pages. They have stopped listing addresses over the radio to prevent people from popping in potential crime scenes. 

Social Media, Scanner Pages, And Misinformation

Should Social Media Also Be Blamed?

Yes. Facebook lacks platform-wide moderation policies. As a result, things like this happen. In fact, fake news is all over the platform, and according to a whistleblower, Facebook is not doing anything to stop it. Moreover, she says Facebook prioritizes profits over removing the risks brought by spreading misinformation. The business world of Instagram and Facebook is too busy with third-party websites that sell Instagram Followers to deal with real complex issues such as Scanner Pages.

As something considered as a leading source of news, that is not how Facebook should behave. What it should be doing is trying to stop the spread of fake news. Admittedly, that is not an easy task. But considering Facebook's size, it has the resources to do it. There is really no excuse.

Should Social Media Scanner Pages be Banned?

No. Fundamentally, they aren't committing or even helping commit any crimes. They serve as a similar function as a note-taker, taking things that happen on the radio, and often unrecorded, lost in transmission form of olden-day communication, and bringing it into the digital age. This helps document reality, especially when you think of it as a way of encompassing old architecture and outdated systems that we can't afford to fully overhaul.

School systems are always desperate for more money, but as kids grow up in a harsher and harsher world, the need for security and transparency always increases. Using Scanner Pages can be a great solution to increase security and accountability as the entire school system likely uses radios and radio waves to communicate critical information and security updates between school teachers and staff security, especially when a threat occurs.

Conclusion

The beauty is that even bored parents at home could easily dive in, and help listen to the general atmosphere and improve situational awareness in school settings. If anything happens, the parents will be the quickest to respond, instantly calling the police to come in for real help when things go bad. What do you think? Would you like another layer of accountability for currently off-the-grid systems commonly used by important people who might even yield power over your life? Do you want anonymous people listening to you over your shoulder?

Are you scared you could live in a world where people in power might behave more selfishly if they knew they were being criticized down to the most minute detail, and may not react with all their effort during their time of need? Let us know how you feel in the comments and on social media! We look forward to hearing your input via our contact page, or the comments below.

Date: January 12, 2022 / Categories: Interesting, / Author: Joy P

January
12
2022

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