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The good and the bad of Facebook

Sterling's Daily Gazette has been around since 1854. The city was incorporated in 1857. Since that time, the Sterling Police Department has gone through our newsroom to post news about its suspects.

Not anymore.

For the first time, the Sterling Police Department last week took advantage of our Facebook page when it posted a photo of a shoplifting suspect at Walmart.

A day later, the department nabbed the person, Jonathan M. Woods, 36, who is accused of stealing a 42-inch TV.

Sgt. Steve Hubbard said one of the tips was the result of Facebook, while another came though the Crime Stoppers hotline.

"The more media we get out there, the better odds we have," he said.

We maintain a Facebook page with heavy traffic; nearly 9,000 people have "liked" our page. So it makes sense for Sterling police to post directly to it when they're searching for suspects.

That's an advantage of Facebook. You reduce the barriers to getting information to the public and have a spirited exchange of ideas.

Sometimes, that spirit devolves into a rudeness you would rarely experience in a face-to-face meeting.

Recently, we posted a story to Facebook about racial profiling. According to data provided by area police departments, you're more likely to get a ticket during a traffic stop if you're black or Hispanic. This trend can be found across the state.

Some people's comments advanced the discussion.

Dave Pilgrim, a Rock Falls police officer, said the true way to measure whether racial profiling exists is to compare the percentage of drivers stopped to a race's percentage of the population.

"Once a stop has been made, many factors come in to play, such as the severity of offense, licensing/insurance, condition of vehicle and even demeanor of driver, all of which affect the decision whether to issue a citation or warning," Pilgrim wrote.

He's right that the measure we wrote about is imperfect, but then so is the one he suggests. After all, officers might not know the race of the drivers they stop, especially at night, because they can't see them.

To his credit, Pilgrim thought about the issue. Other critics of the story did not.

Some accused Sauk Valley Media of printing "misleading" statistics, but didn't say how so. Another accused us of pushing "race card BS." Others suggested the story was liberal or communist. (Hey, wasn't Martin Luther King often labeled as a communist?)

Another Facebook commenter used racial stereotypes to justify Hispanics and blacks getting proportionately more tickets.

That was the worst comment about the racial profiling story.

On Facebook, you'll get the good with the bad. On balance, though, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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