Infamous for 15 Minutes – how social as well as traditional media can demonise the innocent
The shootings of elementary school children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday, 14th December, were horrific. According to GunPolicy.org, in the country of Switzerland, which has one of the highest militia gun ownership rates in the world, individuals are 17 times more likely to die from gunshot wounds than in the UK. If you live in the USA, where all citizens have the right to bear arms, you are 100 times more likely than in the UK to be shot and killed. That is all I want to say directly on this subject.
Instead, I want to focus on what happened to an accountant working at Ernst & Young in Times Square, New York. On the afternoon of the killings, within the space of a few hours, this innocent young man of 24 years was named as the main suspect; vilified on television news networks, Facebook and Twitter; and hounded from his office. On YouTube, someone re-posted a video of this man discussing politics, naming him as a ‘Gunman’. He was later arrested at his home and taken away in handcuffs by police. Facebook users set up pages naming him as a ‘mass murderer’ and a ‘terrorist’, and righteously demanding that he should ‘burn in hell’.
This unfortunate person was the younger brother of the actual perpetrator of the terrible crimes. But it took just one erroneous tweet from Associated Press to spark the media frenzy. So-called ‘respectable’, traditional media outlets CNN and Fox News broadcast the wrong man’s name, along with his Facebook photo, without bothering to check whether the original tweet was correct. Hot on their heels came the self-important Twitterati and Facebook (ab)users. This is the lynch mob at work in the digital age. In case you have not read the story of poor Ryan Lanza, you can learn what happened here: http://bit.ly/UaKAGq.
I recently read a fascinating novella by R.C. Wade called ‘The 50 Megaton Tweet’. Its premise is that a single erroneous tweet, stating that the president of the USA has been killed, could set off a sequence of events leading to potential global catastrophe. With the author’s permission, I wish to quote the following text from the Prologue to the story:
“… media companies … quickly found themselves fighting over tweets and blog posts …, racing to be the first to add credibility to a plausible, if not dubious, report … they were afraid of being left behind … Concepts like integrity, duty, fairness, and truth were supplanted by competition, speed, marketing, and ratings … Demands always to be right eroded to a general satisfaction with being mostly right … in modern media, information came to be recycled and reprinted without regard for ownership or accuracy … Simply put, big media lost sight of their obligation to report accurate news …” Copyright © 2012 R.C. Wade http://on.fb.me/T9GxJm.
In my review of ‘The 50 Megaton Tweet’, which I posted on Amazon, I wrote: “The author has done a sterling job here, cleverly knitting ‘real life’ happenings over the last decade to what might happen in the near future—unless we are all on our guard to prevent it. Maybe ‘The 50 Megaton Tweet’ should be a compulsory text in every school.” http://amzn.to/Xphsf4
America has to do something about its terrible record of innocent deaths at the hands of gunmen. But worldwide we have to take more responsibility for what we report, read about, retweet, post and re-post. In the UK recently, traditional media organisations and people who tweeted and retweeted erroneous and libellous allegations about an ex-politician and Member of the House of Lords have learned the hard way what this responsibility entails. See http://bit.ly/U0oJiq.
Remember, it took just one incorrect AP tweet: “Law enforcement official: Ryan Lanza, 24, is suspect in Connecticut school shooting” to make this young man’s life hell for an afternoon, and his grieving for what his brother did, including the killing of his own mother, all the more difficult to bear.