YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

After Colorado shootings, social media are misinformation sources

July 20, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • A tweet from the night of the shooting outside a theater in Aurora, Colorado.
A tweet from the night of the shooting outside a theater in Aurora, Colorado. (Twitter )

Big news is usually bad news. And a big problem with big stories is that misinformation can move faster than the facts, like lightning before thunder, and make bad news worse.

Here’s the text from an image that churned its way through the social media sphere in the early hours after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings on Friday.




PHOTOS: 'Dark Knight Rises' shooting

At least 12 people were killed and dozens wounded during the showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," and such a text suggested a rampaging shooter’s manifesto. It wasn't -- though that didn’t stop the image from swirling into the information funnel of the amateur Internet sleuths who thought it might be.

After a search of its site, 9GAG — a viral meme-sharing site with a cult following whose tagline is “Just for Fun” — hurriedly disavowed that any such image had been posted by its users.

“Any reports otherwise are completely untrue and we ask your help in putting this incredibly insensitive hoax to rest,” the site said in a statement.

The misinformation continued to whirl around Twitter hours later, perhaps fueled by the fact that no motive by the shooter had been revealed.

Meanwhile, speculation as to the hoax’s source fixed on the popular Internet hive known as 4chan, which has been known to raid 9GAG in similar false-flag operations and spam porn all over its  competitors’ site.

This is the Internet, and you should not believe everything you read on it.

“We are analyzing all social media and are already finding that there are a lot of pranks,” Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates said in a televised news conference on Friday.

Similarly, three Colorado men who share a name with the suspected shooter, James Holmes, became victims of slightly less malicious identity errors, but the effects bordered on the severe.

“Dearest random Facebook people who keep confusing me for a mass murderer and yet still send me Facebook requests,” one James Holmes wrote on his Facebook. “I appreciate the fact that you are trying to become better-informed about the occurrences last night in Aurora, but you have been somewhat mislead [sic], in that I am not the man who did it. I am not a 24-year-old gun-slinging killer from Aurora, I am a 22-year-old book-slinging mass eater from Littleton.”

A 24 Hour Fitness gym in Aurora posted this polite note on its site on behalf of its own James Holmes: "Our condolences go out to all the victims of the tragedy at the Century 16 Movie Theater. Some press reports have inaccurately reported that the alleged shooter is a 24 Hour Fitness team member. These reports are not accurate."

James Michael Holmes, 52, a Colorado tea party member, saw his name confused with the suspect’s by ABC News, raising speculation about a right-leaning killer. He told Breitbart News he disconnected his phone after the misidentification.

Unchastened by all this, conservative news-slinger Matt Drudge floated the rumor that the real James Holmes was a registered Democrat, raising speculation about a left-leaning killer. 

An update from Breitbart News perhaps said it all: “UPDATE: NOT REGISTERED?”

Assigning motivation on shreds of innuendo and hearsay is a ritual of late-breaking misunderstanding. After Anders Breivik’s staggering bombing and mass-shooting attack in Norway last year killed 77 people, speculation immediately staggered toward orchestration by Al Qaeda; then it turned out that Breivik was a right-wing anti-Islamic ultranationalist.

After a gunman police identified as Jared Lee Loughner killed six people and nearly a seventh — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — at her Tuscon, Ariz., meet-and-greet, Internet crawlers trawled through his MySpace profile and tried to interpret why two of his favorite books were “Mein Kampf” (ultra-right) and “The Communist Manifesto” (ultra-left). Then it turned out his views on reality were so incoherent that his ideology didn’t really amount to much of anything at all.

Friday's most accurate misinformation perhaps came from the fake newsies over at the Onion, which published a brief titled, “Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting’s Aftermath Will Play Out.”

“According to the nation's citizenry, calls for a mature, thoughtful debate about the role of guns in American society started right on time, and should persist throughout the next week or so,” the Onion read. “However, the populace noted, the debate will soon spiral out of control and ultimately lead to nothing of any substance, a fact Americans everywhere acknowledged they felt ‘absolutely horrible’ to be aware of.”

As for real news, even accurate information can be inaccurate.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, a friend of the Aurora police chief, told reporters in New York that the shooting suspect resembled Batman villain the Joker: “It clearly looks like a deranged individual. He had his hair painted red, he said he was ‘the Joker,’ obviously the ‘enemy’ of Batman.” 

The Joker’s hair is green.


Colorado shooting: Mother describes fleeing with her kids

Man who stripped at TSA checkpoint: Liberty trumped modesty

Rotten Tomatoes shut down 'Batman' comments after death threats

Los Angeles Times Articles