PORTLAND -- The search for a missing Gresham woman wasn't just a big news story. It became a big story in social media as well.
Several Facebook pages were devoted to the search for Whitney Heichel, and the hashtag #findwhitney was being used on Twitter to spread the word of her disappearance.
A high school friend living in Michigan started a Find Whitney Heichel Facebook page with more than 13,000 "likes," helping people keep up-to-date on the case from anywhere in the world.
A former Portland police officer spoke with KGW about the benefit, and also the drawbacks of social media in missing persons investigations.
Larry Rosson, now a private investigator in Portland, said pages like these can help.
“With the advent of social media, now you can make tweets or put a Facebook page together so people can contact you easily,” he said. “So, a lot of that information sharing is easier to do, other than trying to put it in a newspaper, or even put it on television. You can do it in just minutes with a cell phone.”
But Rosson said social media can also cause problems, if sensitive information reaches the public before it gets to police, if false information spreads, or if the wrong person takes advantage of personal information.
“All of this technology is wonderful. But with any kind of technology, you have people out there who will prey on people who aren’t aware or smart about this,” he said.
Rosson stressed that anybody who’s missing a family member should seek the help of police before sending out messages on social media. He said working with police is as important as getting the word out quickly.
Complete Coverage: Search for Whitney Heichel