Using social media responsibly during tragic events


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The shooting of a reporter and cameraman Wednesday morning played out for the world to see over social media. Hours after Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot and killed, the shooter, Vester Flanagan, took to Twitter and Facebook.

“There are so many uncharted waters with social media and this is one of them,” said Dr. Lauren Brengarth, Assistant Communications Professor at UCCS.

Both sites suspended Flanagan’s accounts, but not before video of the shooting had been shared and retweeted hundreds of times.

“I think what this is indicative of is that social media, these technologies, are really part of our daily lives. They’re part of how we communicate in a normal way, so this isn’t some bizarre thing that someone has decided to post something on social media, this is how we now share information,” said Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center.

Many news stations across the country made the decision not to show the video on air, but people didn’t have to look hard to find it online.

“In the past we had gatekeepers in the newsroom to determine, using journalistic values, what was appropriate for viewers to see and what’s not appropriate for viewers to see and with social media we no longer have that filter,” said Brengarth.

She said it’s now up to the social media sites to act as the gatekeepers and keep up with the content that’s on their site.

“They have to be on top of it and pull the content down as soon as they know it’s out there,” she said.

However, both Brengarth and Rutledge agree that individuals also have a responsibility to take control over what they view and share.

“We do have a right to share what we want, but I think you also need to think about being a kind human being,” said Brengarth.

“We all have to remember that we control the off button. So if you start watching something that you think is going to be detrimental to your well-being or your general mood, don’t hesitate to just turn it off,” said Rutledge.

Rutledge said that by being exposed to what was happening, people were forced to deal with the reality of life and look for solutions, which she said was a positive thing.

“It’s very easy to think that these things don’t happen or these things don’t happen to me, but when you see these things firsthand, it forces you to reevaluate and say ‘what’s going on here? What could we do to keep this kind of thing from happening?,'” she said.

Rutledge said in this instance, social media also became a very powerful positive tool, and was used to show love and support for the victims and those directly involved.

“I think knowing that a lot of people care, a lot of people are reaching out, can make a big difference to the people who are immediately affected and make them not feel so lonely and lost in the sorrow,” said Rutledge. “We have to take responsibility for how we use these tools, but we shouldn’t be afraid of them. We should use them wisely.”

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