The intense social media speculation surrounding the disappearance of Samantha Murphy could be hampering the police’s search for the missing mum, legal experts have warned.
The search for the Ballarat woman entered day five on Thursday with her family making an emotional plea for the mother-of-three to “come home soon”.
The investigation has led to a social media frenzy with an online Facebook group into the disappearance going from 4,000 to nearly 10,000 members overnight.
Victoria Police were forced to issue a statement on Thursday afternoon asking the public not to report information directly to local police stations, saying they have now become “overwhelmed” with phone calls.
Former Detective Sergeant of NSW Police Peter Moroney, who has extensive experience in both homicide and drug investigations, said the information being spouted in these online forums had the potential to take up vital resources.
“Some of these inquiries sometimes bring out the more colourful people in our country, and while they are well-meaning it does take up a number of resources,” he said.
“The influx of information that is coming in may not be overly relevant, and all of those things have to be looked at and that takes up legal time.”
In the UK, a review was ordered into the investigation of the disappearance of British woman Nicola Bulley after online amateur detectives pushed out several “conspiracy theories” on TikTok.
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden said police lost control of the narrative with the theories leading to vile abuse of the woman’s friends and family.
Terry Goldsworthy, who has over 28 years policing experience in Australia as a Detective Inspector, also said detectives had an important job to keep the investigation on track.
“We live in the age of technology and when you get a live investigation like this it happens.
We saw it with the Boston Bombings where people online identified suspects that had nothing to do it,” he said.
“The role of the investigators … is to make sure that the investigation stays on the right direction and doesn’t get wayward by a red herring.”
Victoria Police said they would not be providing comment on specific Facebook posts or social media content, but encouraged anyone who sights Samantha is call triple-0.
“Anyone with information which may assist with the investigation is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000,” they said in a statement.
The 51-year-old mum left her home on Eureka St in Ballarat East about 7am on Sunday for a jog but failed to return, raising concerns for her welfare as temperatures soared to 36C across the area.
She had told her husband she was heading out on her regular 20km run through the Canadian State Forest but has not been seen since.
It emerged on Thursday afternoon that CCTV police released proproting to show the missing mum going out on a jog before her disappearance was actually of a different woman.