As I’m sure a majority of people know, there has been a huge increase in the number of community pages on social media meant to provide “information” specific to a certain area. These pages, which some have sarcastically dubbed as “nosy neighbor” sites tend to be relatively harmless, especially considering many of the posts are about lost or found animals, heads up for something unusual taking place in the area, or the increasingly popular “What was that loud bang I just heard?” or “What are all the sirens for”/“prayers for the accident I just passed.”
It is that last example, however, that inadvertently crosses the line from an innocent, well-meaning post to something less innocent. Last week, posts on every one of those local Facebook pages “reported” on the fatal crash that happened on the east end of Cambridge.
While that is fine and all, what followed showed the dark side of these pages. Within minutes of the original post, there were replies assuming and questioning what happened to cause this incident. Reading through these posts, either of the victims were accused of speeding, trying to beat a red light, running a red light, and inattentive driving. Even the makeup of the intersection itself and the history of other crashes were brought up. There were also inaccurate accounts of such serious things as the number of people who had died.
The problem is that all of these posts, which could be read as factual information, were made by people who not only didn’t witness the crash, but were miles away from that intersection. There is no way these people knew what really happened.
It’s bad enough that the victims of this tragedy now will have to live with going through such an event, but they, their friends and family members, have to endure this sort of mob mentality, with people grabbing their digital torches and pitchforks.
This is why we take the reporting of such incidents so seriously. While social media can help us in getting tips on possible news stories, we always have to delve in a little deeper to parse out fact from fiction. And we hope, that while it may be agonizing for people to wait, they trust that the professionals will provide accurate information as fast as they can.
Along those same lines, I feel the need to repeat something I said in this column on the topic of covering crash scenes a couple years ago. As I was browsing other media’s coverage of this same crash, I noticed that KSTP (I can’t believe I’m talking about them again) used a photo of the scene taken by a passerby.
As I said before, we here at the Star will never use photos of this nature taken by someone who happened to be driving by. People who take cell phone photos like this are only putting themselves and the responding emergency personnel in danger, even if it is taken by someone sitting in a passenger’s seat.
They could also unknowingly reveal something that should not be documented for the public to see. Any time we send a photographer out to cover something like this, that person has been instructed on what can and can’t be photographed.
The bottom line is, whether it’s writing about a crash or taking photos at the scene, please just leave it up to the professionals.
Bill Stickels III is editor of the Isanti-Chisago County Star. He can be reached at 763-689-1181 ext. 107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.