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Social media: A weapon for law enforcement and evildoers alike

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For Sheena Herschbach, social media was a lifesaver. Herschbach, 26, was kidnapped in California and held captive for six months in Mesquite by ex-boyfriend Jason Greniger. On January 11, she was finally allowed to go to the library, where she got on a computer and posted this on Facebook: “I just want to let every one know I’m sarry I whant to come home but he wont let me yes Jason don’t knoe im online in mesquet novata at the mv motel.” A Facebook friend notified local police, which led to Greniger’s arrest and Herschbach’s rescue.

It was a watershed moment of sorts for social media, one that illustrated exactly how connected to the world we are once we set up a Twitter or Instagram account—law-abiding citizens and evildoers alike.

Doron Benbenisty, owner and CEO of Las Vegas-based CRI Counterterrorism and Crime Training School, says social media accounts for up to 25 percent of the content of his training programs for clientele that includes law enforcement, military and federal agents. “In the past you needed to follow somebody and ambush them and take pictures, but now you can access this information, you know where they travel, because pictures will carry the GPS location. Now you know where the person is, where he was and where he will be.”

Likewise, Las Vegas Metro utilizes social media as it would any other weapon in its arsenal. “I would say it’s extremely important,” says Laura Meltzer, a Metro public information officer. “With social media, people voluntarily put information about either crimes that they commit, or we have victims that post available information about crimes committed against them.”

But with this much information comes an even greater need for education and awareness. For every Herschbach, there’s a Facebook user who gets duped by a predator, and some criminals are much more savvy in the ways of social media than the average user, who may not realize how much information they’re giving away or who can access it.

“I’m not telling people to be paranoid, but they need to be smart about it,” Benbenisty says. “Do not build trust quickly online. Relations that develop slowly over time are more reliable.”

Meltzer agrees, citing the recent story of a man in Sweden who went on Facebook looking for his “missing” children, but was in fact trying to track down his wife, who was in hiding after getting out of the abusive relationship. “We have to be very aware of what we’re doing as social media users, that we’re not participating in causing someone else harm.”

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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