The Newtown tragedy and the virtual front stoop

Over at Tweetage Wasteland, Dave Pell considers the firehouse of misinformation, theories, and bullshit that was instantly unleashed online and erroneously "confirmed" by the mainstream media after the Newtown massacre:
Did you hear the shooter’s name was Ryan? Isn’t it shocking that his mother worked at the school where the shootings took place? Can you believe that she was the teacher in the classroom where all those kids were killed?

Things get emotional on that stoop. Guesses become facts. Hunches become certainties. Details are shared with such adamance that they are accompanied by proclamations of their broader meaning in the grand scheme of things. We’re well on to metaphors before we know what actually happened.

It’s always been that way out here on the stoop. We need a place to be together now and we can worry about being right later. Our digital gathering is more crowded than its analog precursor, but it’s still, at the core, the same basic conversation

"Get Off My Stoop"


  1. Oh good, because for a while there I thought I was the only one who noticed that almost everything reported by traditional news sites in the first 48 hours of this tragedy was complete and utter bullshit.   In the future I will wait 2 days before trying to make sense of tragedy.

  2. The conspiracy crazies have hold of it now, by the sounds of it. I’ve already been regaled by stories of extra shooters with CIA links…

    1.  It gets worse, they are trying to tie it with the Aurora theatre shooting and the Libor scandal now too.  Implying that the shooters in both cases were brainwashed, Obama gub’mint slaves trying to get Libor off the hook.  Oh, and Obama’s tears were fake according to nutjob-in-chief, Alex Jones, in order to “trick” us all into giving up all our guns.

      It’s what some sad people do with their time instead of being productive, worthwhile citizens I guess.

      1. It is, apparently, a false-flag op to get people’s guns off ’em before the New World Order comes. This coming from a friend of mine here in the UK, who has never seen a gun, believes completely that people should not have them in their homes, and would never countenance owning one. Until one of the youtube channels she subscribes to started spouting this gibberish. I hate this species of bullshit, it ruins people’s lives.

  3. This is an indictment of the mainstream media, sure, but not of the mainstream media in particular. If anything, you would expect blogs/tweets/facebook to be worse in this regard. It’s just that we hold big, established media companies to a higher standard. Nothing wrong with that.

    As a news USER I guess the only thing I can do is wait before reading coverage, because few people publish retractions, and if they do, they aren’t as sticky. For example, I’m aware it is no longer reported that the killer left the rifle in the car (as several early reports claimed). But I wasn’t aware that the other things listed here (parent who was a teacher at the school, etc.) are no longer held true.

  4. Good post, but I disagree that mainstream media outlets gain nothing by being first to the story. They run the risk of being wrong, but we don’t seem to be too troubled by the misinformation, unfortunately. The mistakes become part of the story. If a news outlet is wrong often enough, they will eventually lose credibility, but we seem to be willing to give them a pass for a very long time, especially when that outlet aligns with and reaffirms our personal political viewpoint.

    1.  Most people aren’t looking for accuracy, they’re looking for the rush of disaster news or solace from the daily grind.  They no more notice errors than they notice their toenails growing.

    2. I don’t know if I agree that there is no consequence to being wrong. It seems as if the entire act of consuming news (not opinion, as Fox News and MSNBC broadcast) in at least some places and by some people involves triangulating many sources, regardless of where they are on the “real news” spectrum. That reflects a tremendous drop in the credibility these organizations are believed to have. Once upon a time, if AP reported something, it was taken to be true. Now people click four more links to see if they agree.

      1. Seems like you didn’t finish your thought about the consequences they face for being wrong. If the only major repercussion is that it encourages people to seek multiple sources, the negative impact of being first but wrong is minimal.

  5. Also, there’s the attempts to say that the shooter was Aspie, which is possible but not to my knowledge proven, and therefore all Aspies are ticking subhuman time bombs and ought to be further discriminated against/rounded up/exterminated.

      1. Well, elsewhere I’ve seen a lot of comments blaming Aspergers, a lot of comments blaming mental illness, and a lot of comments equating autism with mental illness.

        I think it’s wrong either way, and it’s dangerous either way:

        I have noticed that the idea that we lack empathy gets turned into the idea that we lack compassion, lack consciences, or are subhuman monsters. This wasn’t related to the shootings, but is typical:

        I think that because we face violence and discrimination, and because people want to believe the world is just, there are those who decide obviously we must deserve violence and discrimination. It works the same way with anti-autistic and anti-lgbt violence. I suspect it works the same way with racist violence. Given the victim-blaming, I’m absolutely sure it works the same way with non-lgbt-related sexist violence too.

        1.  I find it surprising that, much of the time, when the “lack of empathy in Aspies” discussion comes up in an article, blog post, etc., people are quick to paint non-aspies as super compassionate, bubbling over with empathy for their fellow man; they truly feel others pain. We regular folk give ourselves far too much credit. There are plenty of us who never step up and do the right thing, are apathetic in the face of the suffering of strangers and even family and friends. But it’s so much nicer to think we are the good ones.  

        2. Rent Dexter. Watch only the scenes where he’s involved in quotidian interactions with friends and coworkers. He’s totally presented as someone with Asperger, giving the message that your socially awkward coworker might be a secret serial killer.

          1. I thought he was shown in the earlier episodes to have been identified by his adopted cop father to be a potential serial killer because he liked torturing small animals and was otherwise very distant emotionally

          2. Yes, that’s the story. But he acts like a socially awkward person with an ASD all day long. Then at night, he pulls out his knives, adopts an evil grin and has a completely different personality.

  6. I believe in the 14 day rule for major news stories. Two weeks after the story breaks at least some of the facts will be correct. My favorite example is the time a Japan Airliner landed in San Francisco Bay short of the runway. After about 2 weeks there was some consensus as to the distance between where the plane landed and the runway began. But before then the babble numbers were all over the place.

  7. I actually live and work in Sandy Hook.. there were so many rumors flying around town that day and the news media seemed to run with any little thing without verifying it

  8. Once upon a time, I was on a jury for a murder trial.  Two groups of kids met each other in their neighborhood, and one group discovered the other group would sell them pot.  After buying some pot, the buyers then arranged another buy, but this time robbed the dealers.  

    Later, the dealers drove past the buyers’/robbers’ house, the buyers/robbers ran inside, and their dog ran off in the confusion.  Later, the buyers/robbers ran into the dealers outside a neighborhood liquor store, accused them of stealing their dog, and tried to take the dealers’ car, in addition to the money they’d already stolen previously.

    A friend of the dealers’ who happened to be there stood up to the buyers/robbers/carjackers, and was shot and killed by one of them.

    During the trial, they showed us some portions of the news video as evidence but the sound was mysteriously muted.

    After the trial was over, I managed to dig up the news segment.  As best I can recall, the intro was ‘A local man is dead tonight… in a dispute over a CHIHUAHUA!’

    The segment then proceeded to get nearly every detail wrong about what had happened.  Even to someone as jaded about the media as me it was eye-opening.

  9. Even IF the MSM and the blogosphere get the facts right, we are disserved by the impression they create that these sort of tragedies are daily imminent, when in fact they are rare in the extreme. 

    Kids are still safe going to school, probably safer than when their grandparents were growing up, and any panicked over-reaction will do nothing valuable.

    The estimable Lenore Skenazy says it better than I could:

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