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DC Missing Teens: How Social Media Helps, Hurts Police

When Commander Chanel Dickerson took over the District's Youth and Family Services Division, she made it her mission to make sure every missing person case got the attention it deserved.

The department began sharing information about critically missing people on Twitter. But in the months that followed, the flood of online flyers began to cause concern in the U.S. capital area.

"Because of the number of releases, there have been concerns that young girls in the District of Columbia are victims of human trafficking or have been kidnapped," she said.

Inaccurate social media posts from other accounts added to the confusion. One of those posts, which was published by a gossip blog, claimed 14 girls had vanished in D.C. in a 24-hour period. 

The post went viral, and several celebrities shared it. But police say that claim was false. 

Acting Police Chief Peter Newsham has said the year-over-year number of missing persons, including juveniles, has held steady, and that there is no known link in D.C. now between missing people and human trafficking.

According to local police data, the number of missing child cases in the District dropped from 2,433 in 2015 to 2,242 in 2016.

Police say there have been 737 cases so far this year. 

"It's about 50-50 between boys and girls," Captain Michelle Caron with the Metropolitan Police Department said. "I think one of the misconceptions is that suddenly it became a big deal, where it’s been a big deal for us all along."

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