Missing Dubai teacher found with the powers of social media

Published October 12th, 2016 - 09:17 GMT
This image shows the Dubai teacher and was used on the Help finding Kirsty McLaughlin Facebook page. (Facebook)
This image shows the Dubai teacher and was used on the Help finding Kirsty McLaughlin Facebook page. (Facebook)

We've all heard the phrase "the might of social media". But when a Dubai-based teacher went missing here on Sunday, posts relating to her whereabouts got more than 67,000 people talking on Facebook within 24 hours.

Proving how mighty it can be.

Scottish expat Kirsty McLaughlin has since been found, but a Dubai Police official confirmed to Khaleej Times the huge social media campaign prompted police to take swift action in the case.

"Dubai Police has found the British teacher whose family announced that she disappeared in Dubai. She left on Sunday after telling her friend that she was in a bad state. Following the police investigation, she was found living with a woman friend in Abu Dhabi," Assistant Commander-in-Chief of Dubai Police, Major General Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansouri said.

On Monday, 24 hours after McLaughlin was last seen, friends and strangers across the world flocked to Facebook to urge the UAE community to keep an eye out for the 27-year-old teacher.

The first known Facebook post about Kirsty's disappearance went viral at 11.16am on Monday. Within a few hours, that single post garnered 25,275 shares.

But it didn't stop there.

As word and photos spread like wildfire across the social networking site, the number of shares continued to steamroll. A dedicated Facebook page - 'Help finding Kirsty McLaughlin' - was also set up, getting 3,445 total page likes.

Maj-Gen Al Mansouri said the Dubai Police "took action when they saw the family's appeal on social media and started searching for the woman".

Their Twitter handle @DubaiPoliceHQ even announced her safe return to its 1.08 million followers: "#DubaiPolice have reunited 'Kirsty McLaughlin' with her parents after they had reported that she had run away".

Powerful investigation tool

Where milk cartons and missing person posters once helped reach the masses, social media has now taken over - and it's doing the job within seconds.

But more than just a call for help, Monday's posts contained vital information about Kirsty, including the model and registration of her car. It was this information that allowed people with no connection to the teacher help in the search for her. After typing her name into Facebook on Tuesday morning, it showed that: "67,532 people" were talking about Kirsty.

Digital media expert Jamie Wilks, Managing Partner of House of Comms, said with almost 85 per cent of time spent on smartphones exclusively reserved for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, this phenomenon isn't surprising.

"With this level of activity on social apps in this country, it's no wonder that we can get together so quickly as a community for such a good cause. Hopefully, we can find more positive ways to use social media like this," Wilks said.

Kinda Ibrahim, Director of Media Partnerships for Twitter, MENA agreed. "Social media is a powerful tool that helps connect the world share information that is live and in the moment ...

"We have seen many amazing things happen around the world on Twitter; thanks to our users, there's a reporter on every street corner," Ibrahim said.

Police here increasingly use online platforms to share information and updates on police matters.

In this case, the social media user engagement ensured a happy ending.

A few things about her

Kirsty plays rugby for a local team called the Dubai Wasps.

According to her profile on www.myprivatetutor.ae, she teaches English, Maths and Science, though the name of the school she teaches in has not yet been identified.

However her profile does say taught for a year and a half in her hometown of Greenock, Scotland before moving to Dubai several years ago.

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