Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Facebook helps nab alleged sexual predator

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A tip from social-media giant Facebook helped Winnipeg police track a local man who is alleged to have lured and sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl.

The Winnipeg Police Service said it's believed to be the first time the online firm has approached local investigators to provide information.

"We're extremely pleased this organization has seen the importance of this type of luring that occurs online on a daily basis," WPS spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen said, adding it was Facebook's law enforcement relations division that monitored the online conversation between the girl and the 25-year-old man.

Michalyshen said Facebook staff became concerned about the substance of the online conversation between the man and the girl, both living in Winnipeg, that occurred between July 14 and July 30. "That conversation was clearly inappropriate," Michalyshen said.

Facebook contacted Winnipeg police by the end of July, Michalyshen said, adding the monitored conversation led both Facebook and police to believe a meeting of a sexual nature was about to take place or had already occurred.

"Red flags were going up left, right and centre for them," Michalyshen said. "Based on what was provided to us, there is clear indication this individual had some pretty inappropriate intentions."

Facebook provided police with account information about both individuals, which police used to identify the man and later the girl.

The man was arrested Wednesday and released on a promise to appear in court.

He is facing charges of sexual assault, sexual interference and luring. Michalyshen said the sexual assault involved inappropriate touching but not intercourse, adding it's believed the meeting took place near the girl's home.

Facebook, the world's largest online meeting place, has previously reached out to police in areas other than Winnipeg.

News reports show a similar series of online conversations occurred in March between a man and a 13-year-old girl in south Florida. Facebook's monitoring software indicated a meeting was about to take place after school, and Facebook staff contacted police.

Beyond Borders, a Winnipeg-based group that fights child sexual exploitation, was pleased Facebook is monitoring communication for sexual predators.

"(Social media) is certainly being used over and over by those who have a sexual interest in children, to carry out Internet luring... but to hear that they are monitoring this and that they are being very proactive, I think it's terrific," Beyond Borders co-founder Roz Prober said.


-- with files from The Canadian Press

Facebook statement on sexual predators who troll site for victims:

"We have zero tolerance for this activity on Facebook and are extremely aggressive in preventing and identifying inappropriate contact, as well as reporting it and the people responsible for it to law enforcement. We're constantly refining and improving our systems and processes. However, we feel we've created a much safer environment on Facebook than exists off-line, where people can share this material in the privacy of their own homes without anyone watching."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2012 A3

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