“The ongoing journalistic ethics and morals that have been ingrained in me for the past 17 years prohibit me from using social media to unknowingly spread misinformation about this. (the Sikh Temple shooting on Aug. 5 in Oak Creek, Wis.)” – a text I sent to a friend hours after the tragedy came to light.
Breaking the silence
This post is my first public comment about the tragedy that occurred on that sunny Sunday in my home state. Much like when the Aurora, Col., shooting occurred during a midnight screening of the “Dark Knight Rises” on July 21, I chose not to share my thoughts or re-share others’ thoughts on any social media outlet. However, I did stand by and watch during both tragedies.
In both cases, I watched as misinformation was spread like wildfire across social media networks; mostly on Twitter because of the ability to immediately RT (retweet) posts in the space. While I can’t remember specific misinformation spread around about the Aurora tragedy, the events within the last 72 hours concerning the Sikh Temple shooting are fresh in my mind.
News of the Sikh Temple attack started appearing on social media and television outlets a little before 11 a.m. Central Time on that fateful day. Here are some examples of what I saw via social media (and yes, some of it was spread by local, national and international news outlets) that proved to be wrong:
- Between 20 and 30 people were shot. (The number turned out to be less than 12; which is still a tragedy but the first numbers were inaccurate.)
- More than a dozen children were being held hostage at the temple. (This also turned out to be untrue.)
- There were at least 4 gunmen in the temple. (As of this writing, FBI and local law enforcement agencies agree that there was a single shooter.)
- There was a gunman on the loose in Oak Creek. (Since the lone suspect was shot dead at the scene, this also turned out to be untrue.)
There was probably more misinformation that I missed but you get the idea.
Being silent can say a lot
I am not a heartless person. I felt horrible about this senseless tragedy; as well as the Aurora shooting and countless others I have heard about during my short life.
I could have jumped on social media just to share those feelings. I could have easily tweeted “Prayers to the Sikh community and Oak Creek.” But how would that add anything to what was being shared at the time? It would have been lost in the shuffle and wouldn’t have helped the situation at all. Sometimes your unspoken thoughts really should remain unspoken because silence can speak volumes. I don’t think anyone who knows me thought that because I didn’t comment on the tragedy meant that I didn’t care.
Here’s where I implore you
As a former journalist, as a citizen of the United States and a human being in this world, I ask that those in social media (and yes, even those in traditional media outlets) take a step back and think about it before you re-share information – that most often turns out to be misinformation – when tragedies like this occur.
Unless you are a first hand witness to the event, please wait for the official police statement. Wait for the facts. If you don’t, you may be only spreading panic for no reason and that won’t help either law enforcement or community members when these unfortunate incidents occur.