A burning car, most likely an accident. Excessive police presence. Overzealous citizens and law enforcement giving out bits and pieces of information. Rumors flying “There’s a man hunt,” “Someone’s missing” and then terrible statements of a possible gruesome act of violence.
It’s the stuff scary crime novels are made of.
A few days later more police presence, more rumors and overzealous news agencies. Then the reality sets in that the gruesome rumors, may be true.
It’s human nature to be curious; it’s instinct that makes us want to know why tragedy happens so we can mentally process it and safeguard ourselves and loved ones from experiencing the same pain.
In this digital age, the dissemination of news can be a good thing in emergencies, such as fast approaching storms or forced evacuations due to chemical spills.
Unfortunately good news doesn’t travel as fast as bad or false news.
In the wake of trying to be the first, reporters become sloppy, news agencies become uncaring and families who are already suffering the tragedy must turn off social media; the one place they turn to first in the case of a missing loved one.
Due to the freedom of information act anyone can request information from officials. This ties up valuable resources for law enforcement when trying to put the pieces of a crime together or collect valuable information to solve that crime.
Unfortunately in some cases it forces knowledge to be disseminated too early such as the death of a loved one. In many cases not all of the family is aware there is a problem. Some older members of the family may be left out of the search in order not to worry them unnecessarily. In the frantic search, distant close relatives may learn of a tragedy through social media.
Not only is it hard to hear of a loss of a loved one, it’s even harder to hear it from social media rather than in person, from a family member who can ensure there is someone there to comfort the grieving family member.
Rumors posted on social media can not only be hurtful and confusing to the family of victims it can actually insight fear and panic. It can also land you in court before a judge as a witness for the state or for a charge of impeding an investigation.
Many a crime have been solved through the careless rants of a criminal on social media. When you post rumors you open yourself up to being on a list of suspects. But that list can get long as the rumor spreads and grows out of control.
But rumors also tie up valuable resources. Law enforcement have to follow up every potential lead. Reporters do too. If a rumor spreads far enough or becomes big enough, responsible reporters will try to follow the lead back to it’s source and question the person making the claim, while some inexperienced reporters will just call the police with questions every time a new “theory” as to what happened, pops up on social media…again tying up law enforcement’s time. Unfortunately some reporters use rumors as so-called “source”.
Social media posts can be removed, no harm done right? Wrong. If just one person reads or shares it, the rumor is out there and it will continue to flourish. When is the last time you read something outrageous and shared it rather than going to the source.
I intercept hundreds of missing person stories that have been passing around for years only to go to the source and see it was updated to say the person was found shortly after the poster was published. If the person was found safe it’s a wonderful mistake to pass the missing poster around. But if the person was not found alive it just stirs up emotions for those who knew that person.
With every new technology there are advantages and disadvantages. There are lessons to be learned and etiquette should be observed. When commenting or sharing news of tragedies imagine yourself in the families place. Would you be upset to read the comment on facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snap chat? Would it cause you unnecessary stress and anxiety? Would it possibly invoke an angry response directed towards someone who may not be guilty of a crime? If the answer is yes, then posting the comment is a bad idea.
Our hearts go out to victim’s families and law enforcement who have to deal with the challenges of social media in times of tragedy.