Imagine you are sitting at work, minding your own business. You decide to check Facebook and you see ... death threats. This is what more than one Ryan Lanza had to deal with Friday, when news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings first broke. Media from all over not only identified the shooter as a man named Ryan Lanza -- which turned out to be completely wrong -- but they actually LINKED TO A FACEBOOK PAGE of the alleged shooter. Wow. You'd think with a common name like Ryan Lanza -- go ahead and type that into Facebook search and watch DOZENS of people pop up -- that the media would be supercareful about something like that. But they WEREN'T.

The original Ryan Lanza linked to on Facebook may or may not have been the Ryan Lanza who was the brother of Adam Lanza, the shooter. I've seen reports saying it was him, and reports that it wasn't. Either way, he began pleading on Facebook: "It wasn't me. I was at work. It wasn't me."

The first I saw of this Ryan Lanza's Facebook page was when a Facebook friend posted his anger at sharing Ryan Lanza's photo, only to have it taken down by Facebook. He seemed to think Facebook was protecting a killer. It never occurred to him, as it didn't to most people, that the media would link to the Facebook page of the wrong person.

But it should occur to people. I've been in the media for a very long time. I can tell you that the media often gets things wrong -- especially in the beginning of a huge news story, when information is scarce but everyone is jonesing to be the first to get up a story. I distinctly remember 9/11. The first thing I heard was that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center because of pilot error. One famous journalist said live on TV, "It wasn't a terrorist attack." And then, a couple of hours later, we were informed that there were TEN planes in the air, also hijacked.

All of it wrong, wrong, wrong.

Additionally, another guy named Ryan Lanza on Twitter began getting death threats. One journalism professor (!!) even went as far as to piece together this Ryan Lanza's tweets as "clues" to what he was prepared to carry out. Some clues!! It wasn't him!!

A friend of mine named Zoe Alexander was getting all kinds of nasty tweets awhile ago because she had the same name as an unpopular X Factor contestant. She couldn't look any less like the other Zoe, but that didn't stop people.

Everyone, I know it's hard to believe that a news source might get things wrong, but play it safe. There is no reason to share pictures, phone numbers, emails of people you think committed some crime. Internet vigilantism is dangerous. How many of you have names no one else in the world has? My name is weird and yet I managed to find another one on Facebook. Would you like for this to be you one day? Or your child or husband or friend? Stop. Use some common sense.

If you're outraged at someone, let the justice system work its course. If you simply MUST, wait until that person is positively identified and then show up at the courthouse with a sign or two. You're not doing anyone any favors by slamming possibly innocent people on Facebook.

Did you share Ryan Lanza's Facebook page?

 

Image via Twitter