Friday, May 18, 2018

Using Social Media During an Active Shooter Event

I was already thinking about writing this post last night when we had an active shooter event at a local mall here in Las Vegas yesterday evening.  Fortunately it turned out to be a non-event, as the guy was carrying a fake rifle and left the mall before he could be apprehended, although they did catch him later.

Fast forward to today when there was yet another mass shooting at a high school in Texas.  Unfortunately this was not a non-event and ten people were killed with several more injured.  I'll comment more on this event in a future post but for now, here are several rules to follow when using social media during an active shooter event:

  • Don't post anything about law enforcement activity.  You will see people post to Twitter "five SWAT members just went in the front door of the mall" and it makes me shake my head.  Law enforcement needs the element of surprise when approaching an active shooter so helping the shooter by giving away their activities is a really bad idea.
  • Don't post your own activity.  "I'm hiding in the restroom at the back of ____ store" is just plain dumb.  Active shooters also use social media to see what's happening during their siege so don't help them find you.  Similarly, put your cell on silent if you are in such a situation so a ring won't give away your location.
  • Only post information that you can confirm, not rumors.  During last night's event someone posted to Twitter that the shooting was at a completely different mall.  Way to scare the bejesus out of the public.
  • For the love of all that's holy don't post personal information on social media.  "I just saw my friend Jane Doe shot right in front of me!!!"  Unfortunately Jane Doe's parents may be following your social media posts and this is not the way for them to find out about their kid's demise.  Ditto naming a shooter on social media, even if you know them.  Such information should be released by law enforcement after an investigation (people on social media have been proven wrong many times when they name a person who actually turns out to be innocent).
  • Don't rush towards the active shooter situation just to play citizen journalist in order to score some video of the situation.  As soon as info about last night's event went out on social media, a lot of people headed towards the scene, cell cameras in hand.  They were in the way of the police and in the way of each other and if the shooter would have came out blazing these people would have been right in the line of fire.
  • Do post useful information you can verify.  Someone on scene last night posted that they saw the guy and gave a good description of him and his firearm.  That is useful to both law enforcement as well as anyone else on scene who needs to know who to look out for.
  • Evaluate where the information is coming from before giving any credence to its accuracy.  Anyone can post to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Reddit but their information is quite often inaccurate, incomplete, or straight up wrong.  Things posted to a law enforcement agency's social media account is usually very accurate, things posted to your local newspaper/news station's social media is probably accurate (they are getting better about actually confirming information before they post it as posting rumors has come back to bite them too many times).
  • If you have information that needs to be shared with law enforcement, use text to 911 if it is available (calling 911 is better of course but if you can't talk, texting is the next best thing).
  • Be careful about posting photos of an event on social media.  Misidentifying people in photos, showing things in the background that shouldn't be shared with the public (like dead bodies), and inadvertently giving away the positions of law enforcement personnel are just some of the issues with this.
  • Don't believe everything you see/read on social media.  There was a lot of incorrect information posted for hours on social media during last night's event.  People said there was two shooters (there was one), people said two people were shot (no one was shot), people said the event was over (even before the mall was cleared and no shooter was found) went on and on like that.
  • Avoid the media.  Today's media circus at the Texas high school was appalling.  I don't know who thought it was a good idea to thrust a microphone in a traumatized child's face and start asking them questions about their friends being massacred but someone should smack those reporters upside the head when they do that.

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