Chelsea King was out running in a San Diego park last week. She never came home. Last Wednesday, convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III was arraigned on charges of murder of the teenager. The nation watched the story unfold on cable news stations and in San Diego, thousands of people gathered to search for and later mourn the life of the girl they didn't know. But it wasn't just the cable news stations that brought people together. Some experts say social media is changing everything about these types of incidents, from search and rescue to the grieving process.
Twitter and Facebook alone played a huge role in recruiting the over 6,000 volunteers who helped look for King. The family set up a Facebook page for the missing girl which now has over 70,000 members. Also, law enforcement agencies expect to use the social media to construct a timeline of the suspect's whereabouts.
Ken Dixon of MIR3, a company based in San Diego that develops communication networks for governments, universities, and large corporation says we can expect this to happen more often in the next few years. "“In the old days, you lined up people around the block. Each would write down their phone number and expertise and bearing to the case, and getting back to them was tedious and slow. Now you can aggregate and annotate responses, contact and deploy with lightning speed," he told the Christian Science Monitor.
He also said, "State-of-the-art systems today go 'social-networking’ one better because they have many more ways to collect and annotate responses in real-time.”
Elizabeth Dowdell, an associate professor of nursing at Villanova, who works with the FBI in forensics and Internet safety, says social media also helps everyone from the parents to strangers mourn and keep in touch with each other to do so together. She told the Christian Science Monitor, "The community support tapped into by these systems will help San Diego cope with their sense of loss, and piece together the many details of the case to create needed court testimony. Equally important are the living memorials that can be created to mitigate the need for parents who hold onto picture collages and keep the bedroom of their deceased children unchanged for year upon year.”
Facebook currently allows for family members of deceased people to turn their personal pages into memorials. This preserves their wall, allowing the person's friends to leave messages of remembrances and support.
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