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.
While ABC was careless in throwing out speculation, the folks at Breitbart were quite, quite sure that ABC was doing so in order to smear conservatives. Breitbart would show them, however. They’d link to a James Holmes who was registered as a Democrat! Okay, he was a different age than the James Holmes who attacked people in Aurora. Sure, he was registered to vote in La Plata County, which is six hours away from Aurora. Still, he was a Democrat! Take that, liberals!
Needless to say, Breitbart was no closer to the truth than ABC was; both picked a James Holmes at random, both reported a political affiliation for him, and both were completely wrong. But Breitbart’s breathless bombshell was spurred out of pure tribal animus. It would be far more embarrassing to the Breitbartkateers, but Breitbart is already known for having minimal journalistic ethics, so it won’t affect them in the long run.
Of all the responses, though, far and away the worst response of the day came from Celeb Boutique, which posted perhaps the most callous tweet since the Kenneth Cole debacle:
Yes, they did use the tragic murder of 12 people to sell Kim Kardashian’s new dress!
After about an hour and a trillion angry retweets, Celeb Boutique threw together a highly dubious apology. In a series of tweets, they said:
We didn’t check what the trend was about hence the confusion, again we do apologise[.] We are incredibly sorry for our tweet about Aurora – Our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend, at that time our social media was totally UNAWARE of the situation and simply thought it was another trending topic – we have removed the very insensitive tweet and will of course take more care in future to look into what we say in our tweets. Again we do apologise for any offense caused. This was not intentional & will not occur again. Our most sincere apologies for both the tweet and situation.
This explanation might work for people who are totally unfamilliar with Twitter, but people who are know that you can click on a hashtag to see what people are saying about it. Had anyone at Celeb Boutique bothered to check the #Aurora tag, they would have seen thousands of tweets about a shooting in Aurora.
Perhaps they’re telling the truth, and this was careless, not callous. But it bespeaks a certain level of narcissism to post an ad on any trending topic, without even bothering to check what it is. Maybe they didn’t set out to offend the entire internet, but their inability to realize that things trend for bad reasons as well as good shows just how little regard Celeb Boutique has for anyone.
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