Should Social Media Be Considered An Accurate Source of Information for Reporters?
Ryan Lanza was in his office near Times Square last Friday when news reports broke that he had gone on a shooting spree in an elementary school in Connecticut. Clearly he hadn’t done what he was being accused of, but the suspect had an ID with Ryan’s name in his pocket and with lightning speed, his name and face were all over the news as the monster who took the lives of 26 people earlier that morning.
How did this happen so quickly? Curious about the person who was being named as the alleged killer, anyone with a Facebook account was able to search for Lanza’s profile and learn all about him. Since Ryan Lanza had a public Facebook account, it was only a matter of minutes until his photo was circulated all over the Internet. Realizing that he had to clear his name, Ryan Lanza quickly went on Facebook to defend himself, proclaiming himself innocent with “IT WASN’T ME. I WAS AT WORK. IT WASN’T ME.” (For the uninitiated, using all caps in a social media post is akin to screaming). Shortly thereafter, ABC News confirmed that the shooter was, in fact, Ryan’s younger brother Adam.
Social media can be a dangerously inaccurate source of information for reporters, as well as providing a forum for publicizing the names of individuals who seek – and earn – notoriety from committing crimes. As a result of the Newtown tragedy, the Connecticut State Police have vowed to prosecute anyone posting misinformation on social media sites about the shootings while the active investigation is still occurring. The mainstream media is often faced with the task of getting it first and getting it right. Even with social media making and breaking news at lightning speed, that rule can’t become a choice. Otherwise, an it’s easy way to see how an accountant sitting at his desk miles away from a murder scene can quickly become the target of a very serious investigation and in danger himself.