Nfld. & Labrador

The RNC's role and how social media has changed how they work

Const. Geoffrey Higdon, the RNC's social media officer, says the force has been active on Twitter and Facebook over the past few years.
Const. Geoffrey Higdon is the RNC's social media officer. (John Gushue/CBC)

Since Mitchells Brook resident Don Dunphy made potential threats on Twitter on April 1, there has been a lot of discussion about the role of social media in police investigations.

Dunphy, who was shot and killed by a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer last Sunday, was buried on Friday. The officer was investigating threats that Dunphy had made against some provincial politicians. 

Const. Geoffrey Higdon, the RNC's social media officer, told the St. John's Morning Show on Friday that while he couldn't speak specifically about what happened in Mitchells Brook, he could talk about how social media has changed the way the police do their work.

Higdon told host Anthony Germain that the RNC has been active on Facebook for the last two years, and about a year ago, the force launched its Twitter account.

Then there are times when an investigation into something like that leads us to determine that this person does in fact need help, and then we cue into the Mental Health Care Act.- Const. Geoffrey Higdon

"I was one of the people who helped pilot us being on Twitter, and obviously in my quest to learn how Twitter and Facebook work in relation to policing, a lot of my research brought me to how we investigate it as well," said Higdon.

"People think Facebook or Twitter is different in how we traditionally police. It's actually very much the same. In a sense, it's no different than someone writing a threat to someone, or to an organization, on a wall in a bathroom or a public place. And we would investigate that and treat that seriously, until we determine that there is no threat."

Every potential threat monitored

Higdon said if someone makes even a vague threat on social media, it is monitored, and if necessary, investigated.

"Something like that, obviously we're going to treat it as something until it's nothing. Often, people post threats that are very direct in nature and we have to investigate that," said Higdon.

"We'll flag it, and if it's just a quick conversation with someone and they can explain the tone, because you can't translate a tone from what someone writes, through email or text or other — that's all we want to do. They can clarify it, and if we're satisfied, that's the end of it." 

Higdon said at times, discerning what's posted on social media can be a bit challenging, especially if it's anonymous. 

People think Facebook or Twitter is different in how we traditionally police. It's actually very much the same.- Const. Geoffrey Higdon

"Facebook is an American-based company, and trying to cut through some red tape for investigative purposes can be challenging. There are so many privacy laws that contradict each other in Canada and the U.S., and people need to understand that," he said.

"Someone making a vague threat to harm themselves, or just a dialogue that would present some concern to maybe a partner or former partner or family members, they'll contact us, and obviously we want to make contact with that individual," said Higdon.

"And in most cases, they may have a very good explanation to why it is, and they'll explain the tone of it. Then there are times when an investigation into something like that leads us to determine that this person does in fact need help, and then we cue into the Mental Health Care Act."