How to Spot Lies on Social Media After a Mass Shooting
October 2, 2017
Word travels fast when a news event is breaking. Even across the country from Las Vegas, people who hadn’t gone to bed yet found it hard to sleep as they watched the body count rise and saw information drip out about what happened and who the shooter might be. But mixed in with the truth were half-truths, hoaxes, and lies.
This includes major news outlets: some will get the facts wrong in the early hours. But any good outlet will correct their reports as they go, and will cite appropriate sources.
At the same time, though, rumors will fly. Some are hearsay and speculation, but others are designed as hoaxes. Buzzfeed has a running list of Las Vegas shooting hoaxes, which includes photos and names of people who are claimed to be the shooter (but they’re not) and missing persons (likewise; one person’s “dad” is a photo from a porn movie).
Some of the incorrect information is created by people pushing an agenda, trying to link the fictional shooter to a particular ideology or ethnic group. (Be aware that terrorist groups “claiming” an event may be among these, even if there was no connection between the shooter and the group; wait for confirmation from the police or other sources.) As the facts about the shooter and event emerge, they too can be twisted:
So how do you know what to believe in the wake of a shooting or other horrific, breaking news event? Start with this toolkit from On the Media:
It’s meant to help you tell if a news story is likely to be true. (If those other rumors turn out to be true, they’ll make it to the news soon enough. Hold off on retweeting if evidence is scanty.) Among the most important points:
Don’t trust stories that cite another news outlet as their only source.
If they are “getting reports” or “seeking confirmation”, the information is not confirmed.
There will be fake alerts and photoshopped images.
Look for reporting (with real sources, such as the police department) from news outlets close to the event.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun are the city’s two major newspapers. There are also verified twitter accounts for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the City of Las Vegas.