When a gunman opened fire in a Florida high school, the world was rocked once again. In 2018 alone, there have already been 30 mass shooting incidents in the United States, according to ABC News. Eight of these have been in a school, involving injuries or death.
Though it brings up discussions of gun control and safer schools, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is bringing out two other issues: using the tragedy of children to further your news story, and getting outraged because of what you see online.
The First Issue
First, let's talk about using social media to get your personal news story out. When the shooting erupted, students at the Florida high school began tweeting out details, last words, and cries for help. Some Twitter users used this as an opportunity to mock the kids who were tweeting, saying they should be calling 911 instead. One student, identified only as Sarah, snapped back.
"17 people are dead. 17 of my classmates. This is how you f****** respond? How much of a heartless d*** do you have to be to tweet something like this. And [by the way], as we were running for our lives we were calling 911 to the point that they told us not to anymore."
Reporters were also tweeting at students during the shooting to ask if they could use their pictures, tweets, or had any other information regarding the situation. And that's where the first issue lies. While children are running for their lives, tweeting out terrified feelings, reporters were asking for more information. These kids are not news outlets or law enforcement.
Images of the offensive tweets began circulating, calling out specific reporters for their unprofessional behavior.
But here's the thing...did it even happen? Did these reporters actually ask these things? There are three specific cases, and each three has a different answer.
The Second Issue
One Twitter user posted a compilation of tweets that showcased three reporters asking the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for more information. The reporters have been referred to as "vultures" and "disgustingly ghoulish."
Asking for photos of dead bodies, asking if the shooter was white, and asking students to call if they have a chance, these tweets embodied what is wrong with social media. It seemed as though the media didn't wait even five minutes before asking these appalling questions to students who had just witnessed a massacre. The tweets and screenshots started going totally viral, with people attacking the individuals for their extremely disgusting behavior.
But that brings us to the second issue...did anyone even check to see if these tweets were real? A quick search showed that each of the three reporters had a different answer.
Brinda Adhikari, CBS News
Brinda Adhikari, an employee of CBS News, allegedly asked a student if it was okay to call him and get more information about the shooting. People were outraged by the suggestion. If he was still in the school, it could give away his location.
A quick social media search to verify these tweets came up empty. Adhikari has not tweeted since a day before the shooting, so there's no way to prove that this conversation was actually had. However, she is following the student she allegedly asked to call, which means some type of interaction probably happened.
Lindsay Ann Benson, CNN
Lindsay Ann Benson, an associate producer for CNN, allegedly asked a student who admitted she was locked in a closet if she could provide more details. The student tweeted "oh my god we’re in a closet i can’t believe this is happening," to which Benson replied, "Hi Gen, I'm so sorry this has happened, I hope you are doing okay. Are you safe? My name is Lindsay, I'm with CNN. Once you're in a secure location and can talk, can I ask you some questions? Thanks."
This tweet does, in fact, check out. If you look on Benson's Twitter page, the tweet is still there.
Alex Harris, Miami Herald
Alex Harris, a reporter from the Miami Herald, was a victim of these screenshots. The alleged tweets showed her asking students for pictures of dead bodies and for information on whether the shooter was white. However, if you go to Harris's profile, you can see that this is not the case.
"There are 2 fake tweets circulating today attributed to me," the reporter wrote. "They are doctored versions of tweets I sent while trying to tell the stories of victims and survivors -- important stories that need to be heard. I did not ask if the shooter was white nor ask for photos of dead bodies."
Looking down her timelines, you can see the real tweets.
"Hi Mads, I'm so sorry to hear that you and your friends went through such a trauma. It's good to hear you guys are safe. I know you're overwhelmed right now, but if you're comfortable with it I'd like to ask you questions for the
@MiamiHerald. Follow back if it's OK to DM"
However, it's important to note that Harris tweeted at 22 different students asking for details. Most started with "I'm so sorry. I hate to do this, but..."
What It All Means
Listen, reporters have a job to do, and the invention of social media has made it a lot more complicated. Information is available at your finger tips, but it's also available to millions of others. To get your stories read, you need exclusive content that no one else is putting out. That sometimes means you have to ask uncomfortable questions. Sure, these kids were tweeting about their experience, which is unlike any other mass shooting before, but does that create an open forum for reporters to copy and paste the same tweet to dozens of kids, hoping one will respond so they can get a scoop?
Sometimes you have to find the line between "finding the story" and "taking advantage of students who are in the middle of a massacre."
As for us as readers and users of social media, it's up to us to fact check before we get outraged. It took less than a minute for me to go verify these tweets before engaging in hateful comments or posts about the reporters. With all the hatred already being spread, it's irresponsible to believe everything you see when you log on to Facebook and Twitter, especially on sites that rely on user-generated content.