While Real Media Waits, Social Media Lies
For me, waiting to hear the name of the suspect arrested for the Québec mosque murders was agonising. In the immediate aftermath, the police weren't releasing much information - mainly that people had died, many were injured, and they had two suspects in custody. One had been caught on the site; the other many kilometres away.
A witness reported to media that gunmen wearing ski masks had shouted Allahu Akbar before the shooting began. That was enough to set the Twitter-sphere on fire.
The media wasn't reporting much - but they were reporting that. And rather than sending thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, Twitter users backed into their respective corners, hurling murky alternative facts.
Breitbart news - Steve Bannon's baby - came up with this:
Was this real, or fake news about fake news? It turns out the Daily Beast did mess up and had printed names of two people who were not affiliated in any way with the shooting (they are instead far right bloggers who I won't name because they don't deserve the publicity) The Daily Beast had received the false information from a fake Reuters account. The Daily Beast should have known better.
Justin Trudeau acted quickly and called the murders terrorism. Good. But still, with very little new information about the attacks from the real media as late night fell on Québec, we were all left to wait for many more hours before we could learn more. The misinformation continued on Twitter.
So who to blame next? Syrian refugees "just arrived in Canada last week" of course. And gosh, why not name them?
Now we have four people named who have nothing to do with the attack. The night passes. Hundreds of thousands of tweets fly and collide. People get more and more smug. More alternative facts emerge.
Finally, it's morning and the police have more to say. There are still two suspects. Somehow, they are both named. The information lights up on Twitter.
This release of these two names is confusing. But not to Fox News and others, who focus on one "suspect" in particular.
This frustrating situation remains confusing for more hours. What happened there? Who are these people? How did they know each other? For some, the only logical answer is that Khadir radicalized Bissonette, right?
Wrong. Very wrong.
Finally, we learn the truth. The sole shooter arrested was Alexandre Bissonnette - a Canadian Trump-supporting, woman-hating, Muslim-murdering white student. That information spreads quickly.
And more critical information: Mohamed Belkhadir is actually a hero. He had run into the mosque when he heard the shooting and was trying to help a friend. He's the guy who called 911. He then spent a night in prison. Untold numbers of people assumed he was the killer. A good name darkened. That never should have happened.
Admittedly, from my armchair, it's hard to say what could have happened differently. But I think the police should have been more clear, much earlier, about "the suspects." Given the hideous Muslim ban in the US, more lives were potentially at stake. The real media should have worked more quickly, more methodically into the night to provide more information. The names of the two "suspects" should never have been released together. The real media and the police could have maintained more control and been more timely, and just maybe, hundreds of thousands of Tweets relaying false information and the wrong names would never have been sent.
There are still so many more questions about this tragic shooting. Why did Bissonnette turn himself in? Why would a mass murderer who is about to be put away for life call police and wait for them? What else is happening here? No doubt, we'll learn much more in the days and weeks ahead.
In the meantime, we must remember these names. Six men who died while they were praying. They had families. They had friends and community. They contributed to Canadian society. They had much much more life to live.
- Azzeddine Soufiane, 57
- Abdelkrim Hassane, 41
- Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42
- Ibrahima Barry, 39
- Khaled Belkacemi, 60
- Boubaker Thabti, 44
May they rest in peace.
And may we all learn from their deaths.