On Friday, as the news reports from Connecticut continued unabated, I turned off my tv. Because I was working on a project that required internet research, my access to twitter and Facebook was still there and I read people’s reactions and thoughts as I continued to do my research.
One student (well, former student; she graduated high school in 2002) had two posts on FB that drew my attention: one was to a photo of a class leaving the school, the other was a link to a FB profile that was the shooter’s profile. My reaction to both was horror, but for different reasons.
The photo made me wonder why the children’s faces weren’t blurred out. Why were reporters (I use that term loosely) interviewing children, getting their reactions? Was there no decency any more? I recognize that many schools now have policies that inform parents that their children may be interviewed and their photos may be posted on-line. But at a time like this? Surely there’s a time… and a place… and this wasn’t it. This wasn’t a sporting event, or a class play. This was exploitation and just wrong.
The second link was premature. I suggested that perhaps she should wait until all the facts were out before posting this. She responded that she was merely reposting from a reliable source (Russell Simmons – not quite as reliable as, say, CNN, but to her, this was ‘reliable’). I reminded her that earlier this year, ABC News incorrectly identified the Aurora shooter, and that at the time of her posting, no one had officially named the shooter (as it turned out, the name/profile were wrong). She took down her post.
We all know how difficult it is to determine rumor from truth on the web at the best of times (Gay Girl in Damascus, anyone?). And during Sandy, there was as much information as misinformation shared on FB and Twitter. But at a time like this, a time of shock, horror and distress, shouldn’t we take an extra few minutes to sort out truth from rumor? So often the media got it wrong – and then the errors were shared on social media.
I thought about September 11, 2001, and how two friends (one in Alabama, hooked in to militia networks, the other a major in the Canadian army) kept me informed that day with real information (for example, that we’d closed US airspace to all but our military and that the jets we were hearing overhead were ours, not an invading armies or more hijacked planes). I passed that along to others at the school, knowing that this wasn’t speculation. What if we’d had social media instead of AIM? I wonder what I would have passed along then, and how correct that information would have been.
If nothing else, these are teachable moments for ourselves and our students. The former in decency, in respect. The latter in holding off, in searching for the facts inside the rumors (often difficult to discern ‘in the moment’). Digital literacy is so important, and we need to teach students the value of turning off the supposed news and searching for verification and multiple confirmations (an AP report on several websites doesn’t count!). That’s not to diminish the events – far from it – but to perhaps bring something positive out of what happened.