We’ve been wringing our hands over reader commenting for years. What we in the industry had hoped would be the forum for intelligent, insightful discussion has in many cases become a freeforall among readers who are quite naive over the idea of “freedom of speech.”

But there may be something productive coming out of commenting. The suburban Chicago Daily Herald readers’ comments played a key role in local police finding out a convicted sex offender may be in violation of his probation.

According to the story, the local police chief was reading comment posted on the story of the man’s conviction when he saw a comment that the guy was living with a woman and a small girl. Police went to the house and discovered that this was indeed the case, in violation of the probation conditions he not be in unsupervised contact with anyone under 18.

It’ll be interesting to follow this in the courts to see just how much credence online comments hold in court. But this should be a wake-up call to those who think their anonymous comments are immune from the law.

Or, as one commenter on this story points out: “Wow…see, all the banter that goes on in here IS for good, sometimes. Nice detective work–and the rest of us? Watch out, we never know who’s looking. ;-)”

UPDATE: New Zealand police catch a burglar using Facebook. Could social networking become the next Neighborhood Watch/Crimestoppers program?

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