Many social media posts and news alerts have caught Meagan Gibson's eye since she started logging onto them a while back.
But one posted by Warren Township police and then shared by the Lordstown police on their Facebook pages recently sent the former Trumbull County resident into action.
Although she now lives more than 150 miles away in Fairmont, W.Va., the Lordstown native was able to let her family in Trumbull County know that police were on the hunt for an armed man practically in their backyards.
"It caught my eye and I immediately shared it with family hoping it reached them. I guess, well, it looks like it helped," she said.
Gibson said she believes she is among a growing number of people who use Facebook, Twitter and news notifications like the Tribune Chronicle's mobile app, which alerts users to breaking news and provides regular updates on area events - in some instances as they are happening.
"It really is something that has come of age and is becoming more and more used I think," she said. "I know some of my family saw the post I shared and passed it on to others, maybe calling them or even texting them or posting to their Facebook pages. I think it helps."
Likewise, Warren Township police Chief Don Bishop realizes social media and news websites can be used as additional ways to get information out.
Bishop made the decision the night of Dec. 9 to let followers of the department's Facebook page know about the manhunt taking place following a fatal shooting in Warren with this post:
"All residents in the Palmyra, Hewitt-Gifford, S. Leavitt area. Please stay in your houses and lock your doors. There is an armed person in that area. Officers are currently in that area searching. If someone comes to your door or is in your yard call 911 immediately. Do not approach anyone in your yard. Please pass this around and if you know someone that lives in that area and do not have Facebook, call them on the phone and pass this alert."
The hunt was initiated and involved several area police agencies after Warren police started to pursue a vehicle they believe had been stolen from the parking lot of Atlantic Beverages at the corner of Atlantic Street and Vine Avenue. The owner of the SUV, Khaled M. Nassar, 22, of Warren, was fatally shot at the store around 9:30 p.m. It was the second shooting there in two days. Shane Stein, 17, was shot in the elbow Dec. 8.
The shooter or shooters fled the area in the stolen SUV afterward and led police on a chase through parts of Warren, Warren Township and Lordstown. Shots were fired from the vehicle at the patrol car, forcing the officer to back off.
Police said the suspect was last seen around Palmyra Road along the Warren, Warren Township and Lordstown borders, but police lost sight of him after he jumped out of the stolen vehicle.
And many Warren Township Police Facebook followers kept their eyes on the action electronically through online posts, alerts and updates.
Bishop said the Facebook post received thousands of "hits."
"I know some people are concerned because they say they don't have Facebook or don't get on the newspaper's website. I realize that, but I see it as just one more way, not the only way, but another way, and if it's available and helps, why not try to use it when we can? It can't hurt.
And maybe even when someone doesn't do Facebook, someone they know will see it and pass that information on," he said.
The trend has caught on nationally and locally as many area police, fire and EMS departments have already created Facebook pages and websites.
The International Association of Police Chiefs has posted information on its blog advising police departments how to use social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to their advantage.
An item published on the PoliceChief website, written by Richmond, Va., police Chief Bryan T. Norwood and Dionne Waugh, the department's marketing and public relations specialist, reads, "Social media gives law enforcement agencies the ability and the power to tell their own stories."
Locally, Hubbard, Niles, Brookfield and Warren police are also among the departments that have Facebook pages.
Bishop said his department hasn't been using social media very long, but he sees it as one more way to keep residents informed.
"The thing is, we can't man it all the time. We have to be out there, out in the field and the community doing our jobs. But I think it's important to start using it even more when we can," he said.
Bishop also got word to local news outlets, including the Tribune Chronicle. Typically, when the Tribune obtains information from its news sources, the newspaper then posts it on its website, www.tribtoday.com. The 7,728 subscribers to the Tribune's mobile app are then alerted to any breaking news posted.
F. Len Blose, Tribune Chronicle's general manager, said the newspaper has seen a steady increase in visits to its website and more mobile app users.
Bishop asked one of his officers to provide information on the department's Facebook page when possible. He also contacted local news outlets asking them to broadcast or post the information as soon as possible.
Later, Warren Township police posted, "The suspect was not apprehended. Be alert of your surroundings. Officers will increase patrols through the night. Again if you see someone suspicious call 911 immediately. Thank you to the FB community for passing the information around quickly. The residents are our eyes and ears."
Niles Police Capt. Jay Holland, who mans the department's Facebook page, said his department has received tips after posting information and images to its page. He said that as of Friday afternoon, Niles Police had more "likes" than any other local department with 5,079.
He said he works on the theory that social media is another way officials can communicate with residents. He said along with posting information about certain cases or images from surveillance video records, he also creates posts that include humor and information he hopes will draw more people to the page.
"You do have to police it because you can't shut down the comments," he said. "Once they are up, you can delete them or even eventually block someone if it continues.''
Warren Police Detective Michael Stabile said his department has received tips through its Facebook page and leads after posting information. However, he pointed out that because the site is updated sporadically, up-to-date information is not always available there.
Likewise, other police officials, including Bishop, said readers need to take note that comments posted by individuals not affiliated with the agency can cause confusion. Online sites can also provide a forum where threats can be made and misinformation can spread.
For example, recent postings on Facebook and comments on news websites after two back-to-back weekend shootings in October in Warren included threats against police officers and others, and prompted Warren City Schools to search students as they came into Warren G. Harding High School and cancel the district's final football game of the season.
On Oct. 30, Warren City Police Department posted to its Facebook page that there "have been many rumors being spread via social media. Again, these are rumors and posts that can not be verified. Please be aware of your surroundings and report all suspicious activity and / or crimes to the dispatch center via 911 or 330-394-2521. Do not post on this page as it is not monitored 24 hours a day."
Holland said sometimes his department receives police-related questions via its Facebook page.
"I think social media is the new way most people want to communicate with officials," Holland said. "They would rather be able to access police reports and everything right on their computers. And I think some people are intimidated about calling the station. They are more comfortable being able to ask something or post something online.
''I think most people only have interaction with their police when they need them. But this allows them to be connected and I think it definitely connects more people."
Gibson said her interest in the use of online sites and mobile applications as news sources has increased. She noted the topic has become a subject of study at Fairmont State University where she attends classes and that the institution has an intelligence lab that looks at how social media is being used by news outlets, police agencies and government offices to connect with people and keep them informed.
Her aunt, Marty Gibson of Lordstown, credited her niece with getting the word out to family in Trumbull County. She said her brother had called her while she was en route to let her know about the armed man on the loose almost immediately after family shared it on Facebook.
"Isn't that something? A family member in another state knew about it before some of us did. I'm glad she was paying attention," she said.