Police in the Cleveland area on Sunday launched a massive manhunt for a killer after a man videotaped himself shooting a stranger there, then uploaded it to social media. But their task was made many times harder by all the misinformation that was going out as fast as fingers could fly across telephone and computer keyboards, starting just seconds after the video was first posted.
As I write this, the manhunt ended with the discovery of the suspect’s body. He apparently shot himself. But the search had a rocky start with the task made many times harder because so many people were making up stories and sharing them far and wide, or calling in tips that were simply wrong — some most likely intentionally. Either way, it wasted police resources that could have been used to search in constructive ways to find the man. And because he’s a killer, it fuels panic, too.
I can't quite figure out the compulsion people have to pretend they know things they don't, especially when it comes to crime. We've seen it again and again since we all started sharing information over social media. In this case, it feels dangerous.
Almost immediately, too, GoFundMe-style accounts were being set up to "help the victim's family." Again, all is not as it seems. The family has flatly told people not to contribute because they did not set up such an account — and certainly not five or more of them.
Scammers and liars and brats running wild.
This is fact: On Easter, an elderly man was out walking after having dinner with his family when the shooter approached him and shot him at point-blank range while videotaping the action. It was not very long after that that my oldest daughter told me, visibly upset, that she had opened a video someone shared, not knowing what it was, and saw the shooting. "Why on earth would anybody share that?" she asked.
It's a good question. The most common answer I've seen is some variation of "to make sure there's a record of it if they catch the guy." Guess what? Sharing the video will not strengthen the case against a guy who filmed himself committing a murder.
Social media feeds were also filling with all sorts of false information, as well. The man was a terrorist, pledged to ISIS, was one popular one. The most egregious — as if one can actually rank garbage simply by what stinks the most — were the many, many well-circulated posts that said officials had confirmed the man was a Muslim out to kill Christians on Easter.
That didn't come from a credible source, but was all harmful speculation by people who want to appear to be in the know. The picture that's emerging is of a man with money problems who argued with his girlfriend and then decided to kill someone. That's what we have in the way of reliable information. The rest is speculation — hundreds and hundreds of bits of speculation, if one judges by the comments on news stories and on social media. KSDK.com has seen so much bad information, in fact, that it wrote a "Verify" story about what is known and what isn't.
Most of it isn't. And here's the problem with making things up: When you tell the police tip line you saw the man someplace where you didn't see him, they'll use valuable resources to check it out. When you say someone killed a person because of color, you pit people of different races against each other. We don't need to be at war with each other over skin color. When you ascribe a bogus religious motive, you deepen distrust of others of that faith. We don't need to be at war over that, either.
Nothing's made better because people make up news or scapegoat each other. It's corrosive and toxic.