Facebook’s head of safety, a former FBI agent, has warned people against operating as “undercover” investigators online.

“People in the public should not do undercover investigations and we hear that a lot... it really can cause some problems with the prosecution of that case, the collection of evidence,” Emily Vacher told the Irish Examiner.

She was asked about instances of the public acting as vigilantes to track down paedophiles, such as the case with Kieran Creaven, who pleaded guilty to sex offences in an English court in March after engaging with Predator Exposure thinking he was communicating with a 13-year-old girl.

“Law enforcement agencies all over the world, and particularly here in Ireland, they have teams of people that focus on combating internet exploitation of children,” she said.

So if you have any information, you see something online, you see a guy and you’re concerned about his contact with children or there’s just something wrong, pick up the phone and call law enforcement and let them do their jobs.

She was in Dublin last week to launch a collaboration between the gardaí and Facebook, whereby child abduction alerts will be posted to the newsfeeds of Irish users.

Assistant Commissioner John O’Sullivan echoed the warning on online vigilantism.

“I’ve advised people not to engage in law enforcement in that sort of way. It can cause harm to investigations,” he said.

“It can actually contribute to a situation where we may not be able to succeed with a prosecution where, in other circumstances, there may have been a successful outcome.

We ask people who have information to come to us and we have the tools and the expertise that is necessary to ensure that those who are responsible are brought to justice.

Ms Vacher also spoke on “fake profiles”.

“We don’t want fake profiles on our platform,” she said. “We work very hard, we have teams of people all around the world that will look for this.”

The former FBI agent previously worked in the area of child abductions and said her 11 years’ experience helps her in her current role at Facebook.

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