Social media and the stories it gets wrong (5×8 – 12/18/12)

Would you wait for a correct story; the nature of forgiveness revisited; the young sick, the old sick, and the healthy; one girl, two hockey teams; and the appealing comfort of the end of the world.

Housekeeping note: Some people have expressed frustration that comments have been closed on posts that were written a week or so ago. This is not something that is happening with human intervention, but the program on which this blog is written. I apologize for the frustration.


The shooting in Connecticut has focused attention on the advantages of adhering to an old journalistic principle: Get the story right. Social media has come under criticism for reporting incorrect information in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Via the New York Times, some social media experts are admitting they made a mistake treating social media as “a living room conversation” rather than as a news product.

Andy Carvin, the NPR social media director who won plaudits for his Twitter aggregation of the Arab Spring, was called out by The Guardian’s Michael Wolff

While claiming not to retweet most of what he finds, because of its questionable provenance, he nevertheless tweeted a rather broad range of bollocks. There was news of a mysterious purple van that does not seem actually have existed. Then there was, suddenly, a second shooter theory that got Carvin’s attention. And the gunman’s brother found dead. And two bodies at the mother’s house. And he piled on to the fake letter moment – retweeting reports about a letter supposedly written by a child from inside the school.

While the guise is to retweet in order to verify, the effect is to propagate.

Will people wait for a correct story when news is breaking? “No,” Jeff Jarvis says.

But Craig Silverman at Poynter says restraint should be celebrated:

It mattered a lot on Friday, and would have helped spare a lot of injurious speculation if it had been practiced by more journalists and news organizations.

During real-time news events, quality sources of information are sometimes characterized by what they aren’t reporting. They are the ones holding back while others rush ahead. The ones sticking to a verification process and not being swayed by speculation or a desire for traffic and attention.

I would advocate for another journalistic mission: Let us catch our breath and give us a chance to comprehend what we’re being told. Just give us a moment.

Related: The tragedy is bringing back bad memories for survivors of the 2005 school shooting on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Missy Dodd was a teacher at the school where a gunman killed five of her students and a fellow teacher. Ten in all.

“My trauma cup is full,” she tells Forum Communications’ Chuck Haga. “Anytime there’s anything stressful that happens to me, it really sets me off.”

After that incident, some students from Columbine “just showed up” to help the school recover, Chris Dunshee, the former principal of the school told NPR’s Melissa Block. So Red Lake is trying to raise some money to help in Connecticut, too.

And in Cold Spring, Ryan Larson has returned to his apartment for the first time since he was arrested after the shooting of police officer Tom Decker. The St. Cloud Times had a look at what it looked like…


The more time passes, and the more shootings occur, the more astounding this segment of “The Amish” becomes.

Watch The Amish: Nickel Mines Clip on PBS. See more from American Experience.


Joan Zidlicky’s granddaughter has a fast-growing cancer that affects children under age 3, so she took a shot. She wrote to the company that produces Sesame Street Live when she heard it was coming to the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. She wanted to give the girl a special Christmas present and Sesame Street keeps young Addison, 16 months old, calm at the hospital.

“We do not know if Addy will have another Christmas, we are not sure how long we will have our beautiful little granddaughter. Toys nor clothes are not needed for her right now. Being able to attend this show would make her so happy,” Zidlicky wrote in her letter.

The Rochester Post Bulletin reports the big shots didn’t disappoint…

On the day of the big show, Addyson and her family were escorted to a special suite. All the family members wore T-shirts that said “Team Addy” on the back and “Cancer isn’t contagious but a fighting spirit is” on the front. Described by her family as a happy, strong-willed and loving little girl, Addyson was a little apprehensive at first about her new surroundings — particularly a news photographer’s big camera. But when Elmo and Cookie Monster dropped by the suite for a visit, the fearfulness soon dissolved into excitement.

Follow the link for some sweet images.

In Minnetonka, an 11th person with Alzheimer’s is too much for a neighborhood that isn’t happy about having 10 of them in a home in already. The City Council last night rejected the memory care company’s proposal to add the 11th person, the Star Tribune reports.

Area residents said there are too many cars, too much trash, and people walking around with scrubs.

“There is a great compassion for this,” resident Floyd Midura told the Council. But “there are 33 other homes being impacted by this.”

It’s a situation bound to be repeated in other communities at the trend toward care for Alzheimer’s patients is in smaller home-style facilities in neighborhoods.

And then there’s Santa who lost his son

Related: An organization in Boston to whom people turn when they’re depressed or suicidal has a new mission: Make people happier.


From all accounts, Shelby Herrington of Goffstown, NH., is a fine hockey player. She’s also a girl who was allowed to play on the boy’s team at the local high school because there was no girl’s hockey program at her school. Now there is, but she doesn’t want to leave her team.

She says the boy’s game makes her a better player, can lead to scholarships and maybe a spot on the Olympic hockey team. Others say the girl’s game needs great female hockey players.

A judge may make a decision on her lawsuit to stay on the boy’s team today.


University of Minnesota neuroscientist Shmuel Lissek, tells Scientific America that while the concept of doomsday evokes an initial response of fear, there’s some comfort in the concept:

Lissek suspects that some apocalyptic believers find the idea that the end is night to be validating. Individuals with a history of traumatic experiences, for example, may be fatalistic. For these people, finding a group of like-minded fatalists is reassuring. There may also be comfort in being able to attribute doom to some larger cosmic order–such as an ancient Mayan prophecy. This kind of mythology removes any sense of individual responsibility.

Bonus I: Maybe the folks who run O’Hare Airport thought they were getting your typical pianist playing your typical Christmas carols. That’s not what they got.

Bonus II: The Alexander Ramsey House looks good in the snow.

(h/t: Nick Nelson)


Parents and teachers around the country have had to make difficult judgment calls on how and whether to discuss the Connecticut school shootings with children in their care. Today’s Question: How are you talking to children about the school shootings in Connecticut?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The rise of Mexico.

Second hour: The implications of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and what some of the biggest updates or changes are to mental health.

Third hour: Gun control.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): A live broadcast from the National Press Club featuring Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. He is just back from Afghanistan.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The head of NATO says the Assad regime is close to collapse. Even Russia seems ready to concede that Bashar al-Assad’s government may not survive the civil war. Amid reports that SCUD missiles have been fired, and a Syrian government warning that rebels could get their hands on chemical weapons, how desperate is Damascus?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – NPR visits a real-life Santa’s workshop in a gritty Brooklyn neighborhood.