Detailed within the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week, Clayton County police in Georgia used a private Facebook message in order to inform a local woman named Anna Lamb-Creasey about the recent death of her 30-year-old son Rickie Lamb. Specifically, police sent the message to Lamb-Creasey as well as her daughter, but Facebook’s messaging filter diverted both messages to the Other inbox. If a friend connection doesn’t exist between two parties on Facebook, that message is automatically separated into the Other inbox and Facebook does not create a notification for that message. Basically, a Facebook user has to routinely check for messages within the Other inbox to stay up to date with communication from non-friends.
Lamb-Creasey had been searching for her son since late January 2013, but didn’t locate the message in the Other inbox until twenty days after Lamb’s death. Strangely, the message was sent from a fake Facebook account using the name “Misty Hancock” and the profile picture was set to an image of popular rapper T.I.
According to Clayton County police, the profile was previously used as an undercover handle for other operations. Within the message, a Clayton County police officer identified himself and provided a contact number to reach him in regards to Lamb’s death. However, both Lamb-Creasey and her daughter assumed the Facebook message was fake due to the different name and profile picture.
Eventually, they tried the contact number included within the message and were informed about the death of Lamb. Angry at the Clayton County police department for the way they approached communicating her son’s death, Lamb-Creasey said “They told me that they did the best that they can do. But I’m not sure about that. If they can track a criminal down, they couldn’t track me down? They could have done better. I’ve been on my job 13 years. They could have found me.”
Releasing a statement to NBC earlier today, a spokesperson for the Clayton County police stated “Society has accepted social media as a major form of communication. We make every possible attempt to apply best practices when handling these sensitive matters. We will continue the traditional methods of personal face to face contact as we integrate this new tool of social media.”
The spokesperson also mentioned that the police department attempted to contact Lamb-Creasey through several traditional methods, but were not able to make contact with her using the physical mailing addresses and other contact information that was on file for the family.
The Clayton County police department plans to launch an official Facebook page in order to help avoid this situation in the future, but Facebook page admins aren’t allowed to directly message fans unless a fan initiates contact first. Representatives of the police department would have to post about specific incidents on the page in hopes the local community would take action to alert each other. In regards to the method of digital notification used when communicating with Lamb-Creasey and her daughter, department officials will be conducting a “thorough review” of how and why the undercover handle was used to notify the family about the death of their relative.