Social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook, has riled up a nation over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, a Ferguson, Mo., teenager who was shot six times by a police officer.
What has ensured across the nation is trial by the public, something like the vigilantes hanging the varmint before the facts of the case could emerge.
While social media may have a positive purpose, it also has its downfalls, especially when people become judge, jury and executioner and rely more on hearsay or half-truths before knowing all the facts.
Responsible news outlets, which are fewer and fewer today, try to upstage their rivals with incomplete news briefs and other information that can either incite a crowd, which many stories did in Ferguson, or possibly taint a jury pool if or when this case goes to court in St. Louis County.
Closer to home, news media outlets are more cautious in reporting court proceedings because accredited news outlets are held to a higher standard of reporting than the speculation being blasted on social media sites.
In a particular case involving an alleged sexual predator who abused a young child, two Facebook sites were steaming with specific information about the case and the child. From what we can tell, a person who had a romantic involvement with the accused appears to be the one who is releasing all the alleged information on him and possibly putting any future effective prosecution in jeopardy.
While a criminal complaint will outline specifics of the case, most media outlets will be careful in what they reveal. One FB site took down inflammatory comments that had specific information on the case that a media outlet would only report after seeing a criminal complaint or receiving other legal comments either from the district attorney or the courts.
To inappropriately divulge a plethora of information on children is not only downright reckless but also inflammatory. The ex-girlfriend, according to her Facebook post, emailed a Reno television station, a fact that has District Attorney Art Mallory upset. The online posters essentially “outed” the child through gender, age and acquaintances either of the family or the alleged assailant. Mallory said comments such as these could psychologically hurt the child as well as prejudice a jury pool.
While the posters or those responsible for starting the online thread may not be held criminally for the information, they could, instead, face civil charges in revealing too much information about a minor. The law protects minors, and what the Facebook posters have done is broken that legal trust.
Social media can be a great tool, but left in the hands of people who leave common sense at the door such as those closest to the situation, it may become a person’s worst nightmare.
Editorials written by the LVN Board appear on Wednesdays.