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In Times of Emergency, Social Media Doesn’t Always Get it Right

Published June 5, 2014 - 3 Comments

RCMPI’m writing this as the manhunt in Moncton is still ongoing in the search for a man who opened fire yesterday on RCMP officers, killing 3 and wounding 2.  His name and face have been splashed across the world, but I won’t bother to repeat them here.  I don’t want to give this murderer any more attention than he’s already gotten.  Only to say that I hope this comes to a swift conclusion.

Instead I’m going to write about social media’s role in this story, and how even in a time of emergency, we don’t always get it right.

Last week we heard that a newborn in Trois-Rivières, Que who was snatched from the hospital nursery had been recovered after a harrowing 3 hour search, spurred in great part to a plea shared through Facebook.  Score one for social media!

But last night as I took to Twitter and watched the activity on #Moncton scroll by faster than I could comfortably read, I was alarmed at how social media was not helping, and even harming, the search for the shooter.  I found it incredible that police would even have to ask the public not to post the location of officers as they searched for the gunman.  Human nature makes us want to be part of the story, to be the first to say “Look what I saw!” but that’s not always for the best.  The sheer amount of misinformation being passed around as quasi-fact only leads to confusion or even panic.  Imagine reading that the shooter might have carjacked a vehicle on a road that is somehow relevant to you.  That sort of uncontrolled speculation doesn’t help anyone.  It only feeds the chaos.  And don’t get me started on the internet trolls who occasionally interrupted the continuous stream with their jabs about redneck Maritimers being somehow lesser Canadians than the rest of the country.  Go find another sandbox to play in.

The internet is an amazing tool.  Social Media networks like Facebook and Twitter allow us to converse in ways that we’d never even dreamed of years ago.  But for all the advances we’ve made, people are still people.  There will always be good and evil, leaders and followers, smart and stupid.  That’s never going to change.

My thoughts go out to the people of Moncton, and the families of those brave RCMP officers who died protecting them.