PBSO: Social Media Offers Many Advantages And Several Pitfalls

PBSO Capt. Rolando Silva addresses neighborhood watch members at the Wellington Community Center.

Representatives from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office gave a presentation to Wellington’s neighborhood watch leaders and other community members on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at the Wellington Community Center. The focus of the presentation was on the PBSO’s social media presence and how to use social media safely.

PBSO Capt. Rolando Silva opened the meeting by going over some recent crime statistics in Wellington. “It’s not no crime,” he said. “But it’s low crime.”

Silva touched on the troubling trend of vehicular burglaries and auto thefts in Wellington, many of which occur because residents leave their vehicles unlocked with objects of value in plain sight. In some instances, residents even leave their cars running with the keys in the ignition, allowing a crime of opportunity to occur.

Silva went on to tout the new license plate readers that will soon be installed at most Wellington entrances.

“They will alert us in real time when a vehicle of interest enters the village,” Silva said. “Wellington has spent a significant amount of money on technology, and it will yield fruit.”

The bulk of the presentation was from PBSO Social Media Manager Anthony Rodriguez.

“Five years ago, the PBSO started a social media task force with the goal of transparency and providing open and honest, complete conversations,” Rodriguez said.

The secondary goal Rodriguez touched on was how the PBSO uses social media to glean information out of the community.

The PBSO Facebook page has more than 58,000 followers, which is among the largest law enforcement pages in Florida.

“We use Facebook Live to broadcast events and sheriff’s press conferences with real words, unedited, uncut,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez next touched on how dangerous Facebook can be if users have the wrong privacy settings.

“If you’re going to use social media, be aware of privacy settings,” Rodriguez said. “There’s really bad activity on Facebook Live. Hit one button, and you’re on the map. If you have it set to “public,” anyone can know that information.”

Rodriguez also detailed a frightening scenario in which criminals can use social media to determine when people are on vacation and rob empty homes.

“If you have it set to public, anyone can know that information,” Rodriguez said. “A bad guy knows you’re not going to be home. Post pictures when you come back — not when you’re on vacation.”

Rodriguez also discussed the department’s use of direct messages through social media.

“Social media helped during Hurricane Irma with zone identifications for evacuations,” Rodriguez said. “We responded to hundreds of DMs.”

Rodriguez added that positive DMs recognizing deputies count as letters of commendation and are placed in their files.

The PBSO’s Twitter account has more than 83,000 followers, which is used for breaking news such as a potential criminal on the loose, a missing child or emergency alerts such as an active shooter.

“Twitter is the best way to get breaking news from the PBSO,” Rodriguez said.

Residents without Twitter can send a text to 40404 with the message “Follow @PBCountySheriff” to receive text message alerts.

Rodriguez also explained that the PBSO monitors social media for investigations. Among the things they look for are threats and high-risk situations. Rodriguez himself trains law enforcement officers in social media investigation techniques, include keyword searches for phrases like “kill cops.”

Rodriguez next discussed the live-streaming app Periscope, which many in attendance were unfamiliar with.

“Periscope lets you put your face anywhere in the world where anyone can watch it in real time,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a dangerous tool. Especially for young children.”

Rodriguez went on to tout the PBSO’s YouTube page, which has hundreds of videos currently available. Some of the video themes include “Women Behind the Badge” and “Warrant Enforcement,” which he described as similar to the popular television program Live PD.

“The [PBSO YouTube channel] shows the good side of law enforcement — what it’s really about,” Rodriguez said.

The next social media platform Rodriguez delved into was Instagram. The PBSO uses Instagram to share behind-the-scenes stories. The agency also monitors Instagram for suspicious and criminal activity, including flashing weapons, money and stolen jewelry.

Rodriguez described Snapchat as one of the most dangerous social media platforms, because of the age group of its users and the false perception that messages are deleted after being sent.

“Teens use this application because they think it’s gone after sending,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone thinks Snapchat is a privacy tool. However, bad guys can take screenshots and extort you for more pictures. It’s called ‘sextortion.’”

Rodriguez touched briefly on WhatsApp, which has become the second most popular social media app in the world, after Facebook. He noted that it is used heavily in the Hispanic community because it allows them to call overseas at no cost.

The final social media platform that Rodriguez touched on is called NextDoor, which he described as “social media for a neighborhood” and a “community watch platform.”

“NextDoor is a bulletin board to post information and concerns in the community,” Rodriguez said. “The sheriff’s department can post messages there.”

The conclusion of the presentation touched on the “See Something, Say Something” campaign being used by the PBSO and law enforcement agencies throughout the world.

“Look for suspicious behavior, such as odd purchases or someone taking pictures of a bridge or a building,” Rodriguez said. “Look for social media threats or mental health issues, such as making threats or erratic behavior.”

Rodriguez said the best way to report such activity was to the PBSO’s non-emergency line at (561) 688-3400, direct messages on social media, NextDoor or the PBSO mobile app.