Straight Talk
MONIQUE BEECH - Rush to be first continues to implicate before proof online

A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012.

Credits: REUTERS/MICHELLE MCLOUGHLIN

MONIQUE BEECH | QMI AGENCY

As soon as CNN named the alleged suspect said to be behind a horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT, I did the natural thing: I looked him up on Facebook.

It wasn't hard to find a match. Within seconds anyone could spot a young man with the same name and hometown listed as Newtown.

I sent a few e-mails with the message: possible shooter, with no intention that it be posted anywhere without confirmation.

Everyone else in the world did the same Facebook search, it was clear.

Moments later, the same picture was flying across Twitter, Facebook and soon found its way onto several TV stations and websites, including briefly, in a moment of confusion, on Sun Media sites. It was quickly removed. For all we knew then, it might have been the wrong guy. We still don't know.

Such is the speed of breaking news in the modern age. In the rush to be first, hundreds, thousands convicted a guy who may or may not have killed 20 children and six adults.

After the picture went viral, and his name started trending on Twitter, another photo emerged. A Facebook friend posted a screen grab on Twitter of his Facebook status. "IT WASN'T ME I WAS AT WORK IT WASN'T ME" and "Everyone shut the f--- up it wasn't me."

The alarm went off on my Twitter feed as several respected social media managers I follow from major news organizations shared the new post.

News organizations scrambled again, this time to take down the photo.

Authorities did not release his name as of Friday evening. Was the initial CNN report of the shooter's name accurate? Possibly. Was someone else posting from the shooter's Facebook page after he turned the gun on himself? Possibly. Is there another guy with the same name from the same town? Possibly.

None of this is the point. We can't throw the tenets of good journalism and public goodwill out the window when major news events break. Information needs to be confirmed before it's shared. People shouldn't be publicly flogged on social media until the facts are solid.

You'd think we'd have learned this by now, with similar mistakes repeating themselves every time a big news story breaks - from the untimely announced death of Gordon Lightfoot to fake hurricane Sandy photos.

We all need to take a deep breath and think before we tweet.

- Monique Beech is Sun Media's community engagement and social media manager

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