'There is no mediation' with social media
People are now turning to social media such as Twitter and Facebook to express their grief and get a sense of community, which can also pose a risk for misinformation, says journalism lecturer, Julie Posetti.PT1M50S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2bj0t 620 349 December 17, 2012
"IT WASN'T ME I WAS AT WORK IT WASN'T ME."
It was with this frantic Facebook post that Ryan Lanza was forced to deny he was the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre.
His denial came shortly after discovering his mother was dead and his brother was a murderer.
Ryan Lanza, the brother of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza, is escorted by police into a car. Photo: AP
As the first details began trickling through of the shooting on Friday morning, US time, so too did various reports that wrongly identified the shooter, his victims and the details of the horror that had unfolded at the Connecticut school.
It was a law enforcement official who hastily, and wrongly, first identified Ryan Lanza as the perpetrator of the tragedy instead of his brother, Adam.
But it was the web community that helped spread the misinformation like wildfire.
Shooting massacre ... Adam Lanza. Photo: AP
Links to Facebook pages and Twitter accounts were shared by mainstream media outlets and online amateur sleuths.
Almost immediately, anyone with the name Ryan Lanza became a target online.
"Everyone shut the f--- up it wasn't me," Ryan Lanza wrote on Facebook on Friday.
Killed ... Nancy Lanza. Photo: Reuters handout
"I'm on the bus home now it wasn't me."
US police investigating the tragedy have since warned over "misinformation" and threats being spread on social media sites, including people posing as the dead gunman.
Initially, Ryan and Adam Lanza's father Peter Lanza was also reported to have been killed, which was not the case.
Ryan Lanza ... brother of school shooter Adam Lanza. Photo: Reuters
Ryan and Adam Lanza's mother, Nancy, was initially reported to be a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, information which appears to have come from an anonymous parent. The school superintendent later said there was no evidence Ms Lanza had ever worked at the school. She was shot dead by Adam Lanza at her home before he killed 20 children, six adults then himself at the school.
Connecticut state police spokesman Lieutenant Paul Vance said he was concerned about the use of social media following the shooting, including people posting threatening messages.
"There has been misinformation coming from people posing as the shooter in this case, posing using other IDs, mimicking this crime scene and criminal activity that took place in his community," he said.
Ryan Lanza ... denied he was the shooter on Facebook. Photo: AFP
"It is important to note that we have discussed with federal authorities [that] these issues are crimes. They will be investigated and prosecutions will take place."
A photo of a handwritten note was also being shared on social media sites, purportedly written by a student, Brian, as he was in lockdown in the school. He was said to have died in the shooting.
"I love you mum," the note said. "Sorry for not being a good son and not being happy, if I ever was. I love you in heaven. Brian."
However. there was no student named Brian killed in the shooting, and some people online claimed the note was a fake.
The shootings sparked a remarkable outpouring of grief and rage continued on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, where the incident was being mentioned at a rate of once every three seconds in the hours after the tragedy.
Kristen Boschma, general manager at social media unit The Social Hatch, said there had been an "extraordinary" online reaction to the shooting.
On Monday morning, it was still being mentioned at a rate of once every 24 seconds, but the nature of the postings had progressed from shock and grief to the debate about gun control and mental illness.
A lack of early information from law enforcement authorities, and the small online presence of Adam Lanza, meant many people were using social media to fill a void, Ms Boschma said.
"Wherever there is a lack of information, people go looking for it," she said. "What we're seeing now is that, because Adam Lanza had so small a digital footprint, people are rushing to try to make that up.
"We've also seen in this case, like no other that I've seen, the role of celebrities in talking about the issue and therefore driving spikes of mentions. Everyone from Miley Cyrus to the Kardashians and Snoop Dogg had expressed their sorrow on social media."
Julie Posetti, a journalism lecturer at the University of Wollongong, said anyone with an internet connection could now contribute to and comment on the breaking news cycle without going through the filters of the traditional media.
"With social media we're seeing the barriers to entry to that discussion are really lowered, so that there is no mediation any more," she said.
"You're in a situation where anybody with a smartphone or a laptop of any type of computer connection can log on and make those statements without a producer or a reporter or a presenter mediating.
"We know historically that there are people that do stupid, ill-advised and malicious things in the context of crime and I suspect what we're seeing here is just a magnification of that.
"While in the past the police may have had to deal with relatively anonymous copycat incidents, now that has the potential to happen on a larger scale. The social media effect is that that information then gets responded to and spread."