After hearing rumors about a gunman at a local business Feb. 4, freshman Jillian Kirwan posted a status on Facebook to let her friends know to avoid Hy-Vee or Walmart because there might be a problem.
Kirwan said she didn’t expect to have a Department of Public Safety officer calling her with questions an hour later.
“They called and said they had seen my Facebook status and asked how I knew about whatever was happening at Hy-Vee,” Kirwan said. “It pretty much confirmed to me that there was actually something to be worried about, but I was more confused as to how they had accessed my Facebook.”
The police were more concerned about figuring out whether there was a situation at Walmart, Kirwan said. She said the officer wanted to confirm if there was a threat at multiple locations, or a potential moving suspect.
The actual incident to which Kirwan’s status was referring didn’t have any suspect, but rather just reports of a man with a gun being sighted in the Hy-Vee parking lot, according to an Index article from the Feb. 9 issue.
“I was really creeped out,” Kirwan said. “I didn’t want to believe that though my Facebook profile is on the most private setting that they could access my status.”
Sergeant Chad Whittom said there’s a misconception that information isn’t public when it’s on Facebook.
“Sure, you have your privacy settings, but what about your hundreds of friends and those groups that you’re involved in,” Whittom said. “They can see what you post and share that information.”
Whittom said how Kirwan’s status was found is unknown.
He said when the office does check Facebook, they use it just like anyone else would, because they don’t have special law enforcement access on website like Facebook.
“If there’s information that we need for an investigation, we will file a subpoena or search warrant through the court,” Kirksville police officer Jeremy Cordray said. “In many cases we can even access private messages.”
DPS did not file a subpoena for this case.
He said the police department looks at comments made on KTVO’s website because they all run through Facebook. They also frequently have victims or friends print off information that has been posted about crimes or assaults and then bring it in as evidence.
“Facebook isn’t private, no matter how ‘private’ it is,” Cordray said. “Think before you post.”