PSNI criticised for social media post

September 19, 2016

The PSNI Newry and Mourne came under fierce criticism last week after a Facebook post warning the public to stay away from an area where a body was later discovered, prompted a deluge of speculation and rumour that was deemed insensitive and inappropriate by many social media users.

In a post which appeared on the PSNI Newry and Mourne  Facebook page last Monday evening,  police advised they had closed off the road leading to Daisy Hill Wood following an incident which emergency services were attending.

The post led readers to speculate about the nature of the incident, with some commenters poking fun at the possible outcomes.  As time emerged, it was revealed that a death in non-suspicious circumstances had occurred in the woods.

Many of those who replied to the original post from the PSNI questioned why the police social media team had failed to disable comments on the thread as a mark of respect to the family of the person who died, whose loved one’s demise was being openly spoken about on Facebook.

Newry city councillor Kevin McAteer was vociferous in his criticism of the PSNI’s handling of the sensitive information.

The Independent councillor, who offered his condolences to the family of the person who tragically passed away, said that whilst he understood the need for the police to publicise that they had closed the road, he believed the situation was “handed poorly.”

“The comments should have been disabled preventing anyone from commenting under the post at all,” he said.

“Some of the comments under the status were disgusting and disrespectful and considering that someone had passed away, that person is a human being and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Therefore attempts should have been made to prevent commenting under the status.”

Mr McAteer also referred to a post from the PSNI the previous week asking people to be on the lookout for a man in a “grey hoodie and black trousers” who the public were warned not to approach. The Councillor claimed the lack of information in the post “effectively caused panic as that description could literally be anyone in Newry.”

“Furthermore I am concerned that the family of the person who passed away on Monday night would have found out via social media as a result of what happened and they shouldn’t have to find out that way,” he added.

“Don’t get me wrong I understand the use of social media for community purposes and I know Facebook is a very popular platform and means to communicate with the public. However I just think more sensitivity is needed in relation to certain situations as I received several complaints from members of the public about the status.”

In response to the criticism they received regarding the original advice regarding the Daisy Hill Woods incident, the PSNI social media team later issued an explanation on its Facebook page which revealed that they were investigating the sudden death of an individual whose remains were located in the wood by members of the public.

“Our investigations will continue but we are not treating the death as suspicious,” the post continued.

“The area of the wood is a maze of paths and in such an area it is difficult to contain a scene. In addition we required the assistance of the NI Fire & Rescue Service to recover the remains due to the nature of the terrain.

“The earlier post was made in order to assist us in controlling the scene, limiting walkers in the area and causing minimum disruption on the road. The post was in no way intended to create rumor, speculation or hurt.”

The following morning a further statement appeared on the police facebook page advising that they had removed the original post and acknowledging that it had led to inappropriate and insensitive commenting.

“We made this post in good faith, in a bid to keep people away from the area,” said police.

“It was never our intention to fuel gossip or rumour. The comment function on our Fb page allows us to engage with you however, in this instance, we can see that some of the comments may be upsetting or offensive to a grieving family so we have removed it.”