The Federal Bureau of Investigation held its first-ever live Twitter chat Wednesday afternoon, hoping to engage users in a conversation with a bureau official on the tragic issue of human trafficking.
The online event, featuring Special Agent Michael Harpster, head of the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children section, came just days after the bureau announced that it had recovered 168 children around the country as part of the Operation Cross Country VIII initiative. Tweeting with the hashtag #OCC8, users inquired about exploitation in their community and what if anything they can do to stop it.
â€” Adam Thurmond (@adamthurmond) June 25, 2014
â€” ION (@ourvoicesrising) June 25, 2014
â€” Elizabeth Verhey (@BlackHillsMedic) June 25, 2014
Harpster answered a number of questions promptly and thoughtfully, noting that sex trafficking victims come from different backgrounds and from communities of various sizes. The best way for concerned residents to prevent forced prostitution, he said, is through community involvement, awareness, education, and phoning the FBI hotline (1-800-THE-LOST) with any tips.
â€” FBI (@FBI) June 25, 2014
The buzz on Twitter was in part fueled by the success of Operation Cross Country, which spanned 106 towns and cities, many of them in Illinois and Missouri. FBI agents arrested suspected pimps and sex offenders in places ranging from adult bookstores and truck stops to casinos and hotels. Approximately 3,600 children have been rescued since the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division – along with the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – founded the Innocence Lost National Initiative.
“Targeting and harming America’s children through commercial sex trafficking is a heinous crime, with serious consequences,” FBI Director James Comey said in a press statement Monday. “Every child deserves to be safe and sound. Through targeted measures like Operation Cross Country, we can end the cycle of victimization.”
The FBI’s first foray into the Twitterverse also gave the bureau a reason to celebrate, as the #OCC8 hashtag was far more successful than the New York City Police Department’s experiment. When the NYPD encouraged users to share images of themselves posing with police officers, a vocal faction tweeted pictures of the NYPD clearing out the Occupy Wall Street camp and roughly arresting New Yorkers.
“I can’t believe they didn’t expect that,” a member of the NYPD told IBTimes at the time.