The Parkland shooting shows us how easily you can make a mistake and report things that are untrue in the rush to get a story out quickly.
Two things stand out:
- The false report that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who killed 17 and wounded 14 others at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, was connected to a white supremacist group.
- There have been 18 school shootings since January 1st, 2018.
Let’s tackle the first false report.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that follows hate groups, wrote on its blog the day after the shooting that Cruz was associated with a Jacksonville, Florida, white supremacist group, Republic of Florida (ROF). The ADL had previously been contacted by someone who described himself as the leader of the group.
The ADL told Politico it picked up the information on 4chan, a bulletin board where self-described ROF members claimed Cruz was one of them. News organizations picked the story up and people on 4chan kept it going. One of the users described it as “prime trolling opportunity,” and the discussions involved fooling reporters and feeding them the story that Cruz was with ROF.
The same kinds of conversations between these trolls about the false connection showed up on Discord, a gamers’ app that attracts neo-Nazis, about a concerted effort to fool reporters.
Politico posted these exchanges from the bulletin boards:
“On the Discord chat, a user called Curbstomp suggested sharing generic photos of ROF and claiming they depicted Cruz.
“I have an idea . . . We can just take a pic of masked ROF members and claim one of them is Cruz,” Curbstomp wrote.
Members of the Discord chat swapped potential photos.
Others joined the chorus on 4chan, interspersing jokes with purported confirmations.
“I can confirm this guy was trying to enact a race war and got kicked out of ROF,” wrote another poster.”
Reporters from AP and ABC contacted the trolls and supposed members of the group and went with the story.
But shortly after the first report, on Thursday, February 15, 2018, the Broward County sheriff said it wasn’t true.
How do you verify a claim that someone is in a hate group?
The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups. Contact them and ask.
The FBI monitors hate crimes. Some local law enforcement agencies do too. Contact them and ask.
ProPublica, a non-profit news organization, began Documenting Hate, a project that collects data from journalists from more than 130 news organizations as well as independent journalists, local law enforcement, community groups and civil rights groups to try to get a clear picture of what is happening in America
The Anti-Defamation League has been a reliable source in the past.
The bottom line is that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter are good sources for leads and ways to connect with people. But you have to be extremely careful, because we know that people in chat rooms, on social media, and trolls are determined to spread false information and use reporters to to do it. Take your time. Report only what you know.
2. Mistaken numbers about school shootings.
PolitiFact traced the first error to surface to a tweet from ABC reporter Jeff Greenfield.
In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1.
It picked up 130,000 likes on Twitter.
Greenfield apparently picked up the statistic from Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The number of 18 does not mean that there were 18 incidents of someone going into a school and shooting students, as Cruz allegedly did.
Instead the number includes a man committing suicide in a school parking lot and a student unintentionally firing an instructor’s gun. You can see the full list here.
If we use careful language, we would not classify many as school shootings.
PolitiFact checks claims of politicians, reporters and others in the news.
FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center
Snopes.org was founded in 1994 to research urban legends. It has become a go-to source for checking out internet rumors.
Open Secrets.org, part of The Center for Responsive Politics, follows political contributions and money spent on lobbying. It followed where the National Rifle Association (NRA) money went in the 2016 election.
Sunlight Foundation shines the light on government and government officials using public records, technology and information from civic groups and journalists,
See Through New York, a project of the Empire Center, shows you salaries of every public employee in New York State as well as pension information.