Digital caution urged as Regina police seek tips from videos of maskless crowd

As Regina Police Service members plan for another rally protesting COVID-19 measures on Saturday afternoon, spokeswoman Elizabeth Popowich says the service is getting a steady stream of public tips about a group of maskless people from an April rally who apparently went inside the Cornwall Centre.

Meanwhile a digital citizenship researcher is advising caution on social media as images of alleged health protocol violators can misidentify people online.

Seeking tips from the public, the police service Thursday evening posted short video clips on its website of 17 maskless people, whom it says were hanging out inside the downtown shopping mall on April 24. Provincial public health orders call for everyone to wear a mask when inside a public space.

“Those tips have been coming in quite steadily, which is gratifying,” Popowich said. “The public is an amazing resource when it comes to eyes and ears and the ability to identify others in our community. We can’t possibly know everyone.”

University of Regina digital citizenship and social media researcher Alec Couros says this type of seeking-public-tips method — especially that which uses video — happens “quite commonly,” referencing the Jan. 6 riots on the U.S. Capitol as a recent example.

But he advised those people sending in tips to be diligent and cautious, given the potential for dragging the wrong people through the mud.

“(Because) these are public documents and anyone can identify someone erroneously, that person could be unduly shamed online. It could be sent to their employer,” he said as an example.

“People on social media have to be very careful about how they not only identify people, but if someone else has identified (a person), you have to be very cautions about sharing it unless you know 100 per cent this is the person.”

Part of that risk is the fluidity of web- and network-based communications.

“Twenty or 25 year ago, police probably wouldn’t have had a public website … even in this case, I don’t regularly go to the Regina police Twitter (page),” he said. “But because other people retweet them or amplify them, I’m more likely to see this and participate in this activity.”

Popowich said when the police service receives a tip about a person, it doesn’t share the person’s name unless or until the force lays a criminal charge.

She added none of the posted videos name the people in them.

Getting duplicate tips about the same person can also help “corroborate the original information,” she said.

Looking to Saturday’s rally, Popowich said the service hopes “people will abide by public health orders.”

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Uniformed officers are planning to monitor and ensure public safety, she said. Other police members are to be focused on the “investigative side.”

eradford@postmedia.com

TORONTO STAR