How has Social Media helped find Megan Stammers and could it have prevented her disappearance in the first place?

 

You will not have been able to avoid the recent media coverage and constant appeals to help find 15 year old Megan Stammers, who went missing with her 30 year old Maths teacher, Jeremy Forrest last week.

Above: Megan Stammers & Jeremy Forrest

Today, they were both found and her maths teacher has been arrested on suspicion of child abduction after they were tracked down in Bordeaux. Jeremy Forrest and Megan Stammers were both found  after a continent-wide appeal for information led to a string of sightings. This was done through both traditional media and via a number of social media networks.

Police stated that the information which led to them being located came as a direct result of media coverage in France. However it is not yet confirmed that this was through a social media network.

Megan’s step dad, Martin Stammers, has been using Twitter all week to help spread he word and he immediately took to the site to express his relief after hearing she had been found today.

Mr Stammers Tweeted:

“Thank you everyone for everything, massive relief and thrilled to bits, more to follow later. #meganstammersfoundsafeandwell”

So now Megan has been found safe and well, how much has the use of social media helped in finding her and bringing her safely home? A trending hashtag campaign was launched #HelpFindMeganStammers and singers from girl group The Saturdays tweeted, urging Megan to contact her family. Francesca Sandford, from the band, tweeted: “Megan, on behalf of myself, Mollie, Vanessa, Una and Roch, please come home or call your mum. Everyone is so worried about you! Lots of love x”

I am left wondering whether without the use of social media, would there have still been the same level of awareness that she was missing?

Another question that should be asked is whether social media could have ‘prevented’ her going missing in the first place. Should the authorities or her school identified an inappropriate pupil/ teacher relationship online. Some sort of relationship between pupil and teacher was evident via both of their tweets to each other. Could this identification  have avoided them both fleeing the country, and was their plans to flee also not frighteningly obvious via their regular tweets on Twitter?

It has been reported that Megan was exchanging messages with her teacher on Twitter for at least six months. Each posted cryptic messages and song lyrics about being in love and many messages were trivial but many pointed towards each other.

I would ask how the school were not alerted of the ‘tweeting’ that was taking place between the pair and should this raise the issue among teachers and pupils being ‘freinds’ on social media sites. Surely this is crossing the line among a professional and ‘friendly’ relationship.

An example of some of Megan’s tweets are:

“probably just infatuated” before adding two days later: “Age is overrated.”

Mr Forrests tweets included

“only ever tweeted for one person”.

“Some things are worth fighting for …”

“I’ve been trying to make sense. I’ve been shouting under my breath. How’s any of this in my interest?”

In a message sent to Mr Forrest in March, Megan, refers to him online as Jeremy, wrote:

“Too many things keep me awake!!! Are you not sleeping either?!”

On one occasion, she repeatedly apologised to Mr Forrest for her behaviour the previous evening, stating that she was embarrassed and had a terrible headache, asking him if her hated her.

She also made frequent references to her love of maths, describing how she had run to school when she thought maths was the first class.

Many of Megan’s messages concern the trials and tribulations of a complicated romance and several include coded references to her age.

In late-June, Megan tweeted:

“I just want to runaway forever,”

Mr Forrest wrote:

“Me & you. 🙂 Let’s just run away.”

Looking over these tweets now, perhaps Megan’s disappearance could have been avoided altogether.

On the other side of the world the Social Media has also been used in trying to bring home missing young woman Jill Meagher amongst causing controversy now with people sending messages over social media networks about her accused, possibly risking the trial.

Above: Jill Meagher.

Jill Meagher’s case has had Australia talking, particularly on social media. Jill Meagher went missing 500 yeards from her home and a national appeal to find her was held. Tragically Jill’s body was found dead days later.

Upon finding Jills body the tragedy was mentioned on social media sites Twitter and Facebook, every 11 seconds after her body was found. The CCTV footage which showed her walking on Sydney Road on the morning she disappeared was shared on the same platforms about 7500 times within two hours.

Kristen Boschma, the Head of social media at a large communications agency in Australia said that the level of social media engagement with the Meagher case was “unprecedented other than natural disasters in Australia”.

“It’s something that people are taking to with enormous passion and also what’s interesting is that the vast majority of the mentions are really about sympathy and that people are upset,” she said. “Overnight, the sentiment was very much of grief and sadness and now this morning, anger is starting creep into what is being shared and re-shared.”

So as sentiment changed so did the nature of the social media messages which have started to raise alarm bells on what ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ be said online.

Boschma goes on to say, “With that anger comes responsibility to social media users, who become content publishers when they post. That may require knowledge of media law.”

Victoria Police warns its Facebook audience of its legal responsibilities. 

Victoria Police in Australia, posted a message on a Facebook page about the accused, warning users of their legal responsibilities in posting and reminding that “it is inappropriate to post speculation or comments about matters before the courts”.

Thomas Meagher, Jill’s husband has urged people to consider what they post on Twitter and Facebook.

”While I appreciate all the support, I would just like to mention that negative comments on social media may hurt legal  proceedings so please be mindful of that.”

In a statement, Jill Meagher’s uncle, Michael McKeon, acknowledged the role social media had played in the search for his niece.

“We believe that it has helped us in the search, but it’s not the outcome that we had hoped and prayed for. We thank the people around the world who have helped support us,” he said.

Boschma said the CCTV footage of Jill Meagher had been viewed millions of times on social media. She said this was a good example of “action-oriented” information sharing.

Cases like Jills demonstrate just why social media is so important in instances like this. It offers a sense of connection and community, and people want to feel connected to others who feel the same as them. People also feel that they can help in some way, and during the plight to find Jill, people felt they could do so. Jill’s name had appeared in more than 35 million Twitter feeds in the early stages her case and a lot of the sharing came from Australia and Ireland, where Jill is originally from.

Social media however has started to cause problems with the Facebook page originally created to help find Jill Meagher will now have to be carefully moderated to avoid comments about the accused risking the trail.

So it would seem in the tragic case of Jill Meagher, social media has played a very significant part in the search for her. However now, it seems social media is working against the Jill Meagher case.

Both the Megan Stammers and Jill Meagher stories will raise some much needed questions as to what policies need to be in place to monitor social media sites for safety and protection issues but also restricting and making people aware of the very serious risks that exist, particularly in a legal case, such as Jill Meaghers and particularly with regards to the threat of a trial on what can and can’t be said.

With the growing use of social media perhaps a nationwide government education campaign should to be rolled out for greater media literacy and understanding of the do’s and don’ts online. We all have our right to ‘free speech’ but do people know what can or can’t be said online at the risk of a legal trial or risk a defamation case against them?

 

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