In the wake of a tragedy, it’s common for people to discuss events, to comment on the horror, to try to make sense of what’s going on. In the information age, that process takes place in full view of the entire world.
Mistakes are bound to happen, of course. Here’s a handy look at what not to say in the aftermath of a horrible shooting, especially if you’re saying it to everyone on the internet.
First things first: if you’re going to tweet something, you might want to look at Twitter before you do so. Take this morning’s tweet by American Rifleman, the “Official Journal of the NRA.”
Yes, at 9:20 EDT, several hours after the shooting in Aurora, the NRA’s “official journal” quipped to its followers, “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?”
Clearly, this was easily avoidable if the person responsible for tweeting it had turned on a television or radio or the internet. Unfortunately, an NRA spokesperson told CNN, “A single individual, unaware of events in Colorado, tweeted a comment that is being completely taken out of context.”
The tweet was scrubbed, and when that failed to stop retweeting of the NRA’s massive failure to pay attention to current events, the entire account was removed from Twitter.
It wasn’t just NRA partisans making careless mistakes. ABC News decided to run with a report that the shooter, James Holmes, might be a member of the Tea Party, based on a James Holmes appearing on a list of Tea Party supporters. Of course, neither “James” nor “Holmes” are particularly unusual names, and ABC had inadvertently fingered a 50-year-old who had nothing to do with shooting anyone.
Now, it’s understandable that ABC might have thought that there could be a connection, but that’s what reporting is for. That’s why you don’t run with a story until you have facts, which could have been obtained by making a few phone calls. Unfortunately, ABC decided to throw out some half-assed speculation, which they were forced to retract not long after.
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