Morgan Freeman Outburst is Hoax, But ‘New Media’ is Finding Its Way In the Midst of Tragedy

So Friday was kind of a bad day for everyone, yeah?

New media had a ton of influence in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, and while it does come off as a bit cold-hearted to mention that new media finds its place more solidly with every new tragedy, consider the events of this year alone. The biggest bit of social media to come out during the Aurora theater shooting was the hilariously-ill timed Twitter release from Celeb Boutique citing the reason for the word “Aurora” to be trending was their “Kim K inspired #Aurora dress.” Then, during Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy, the new media focus was regarding the number of people who fell for a hacker prank by the GNAA when they posted Twitter claims that they were looting the hell out of white people (including stealing someone’s cat). And now, after the Sandy Hook massacre, social media has brought forth this “Morgan Freeman” post, as well as a few other interesting actions.

The Morgan Freeman post is in relation to statements that went viral on Facebook and Twitter this weekend, where Morgan Freeman reportedly called out the “sensationalist media” as the cause for escalating violence in America. The infamous post reads:

You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here’s why. It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine?

Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out  in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.

CNN’s article says that if the body count “holds up”, this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer’s face on all their reports for hours.

Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet. Because they don’t sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you’ve just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.You can help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.

While I agree with everything Morgan Freeman says here, I also have to point out that he didn’t say it. The post turned out to be a fake — or at least speciously attributed to the smooth-voiced actor. The posting on Facebook actually came from “Mark in Vancouver,” an internet nobody who happened to get poached. That the opinion came from someone “unfamous” though, doesn’t make it any less true.

Another incident concerning social media was the news’ misreporting of the shooter’s name as “Ryan Lanza” (instead of Adam Lanza). As a result, the area’s one Ryan Lanza had his Facebook page exploited and his profile pic plastered all over the internet before the poor guy had a chance to explain it wasn’t him. He’s lucky a lynch mob didn’t get him before the error could be corrected.

And finally, hacker collective Anonymous has shut down the Westboro Baptist Church’s website over the hate organization’s Twitter promise to “picket Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” Note how new media went after new media in this one? The lunatic fringe attacks the lunatic fringe over dead children — it seems so “End of Days.” Too bad the nonsense won’t all stop after December 21.

So new media’s role in tragedy seems to be “the boy who cried wolf” thus far. We’re still fumbling with the proper way to maximize the benefit potential of mass media tools and thrive at the pace with which the world now travels. It hasn’t been easy, but it also hasn’t been all bad. The Red Cross has raised $3.05 million for Sandy relief purely through its new media outlets, while $32 million was raised by text message for the Haiti earthquake initiative in 2010.

I think its clear, even in the instance of Anonymous, that most people mean well, and that speaks volumes about our world at large. Sure we struggle a bit with getting things right, but as society goes, we’re heading in the right direction. Nowadays, with new media, we get our facts fast. If we could only get them straight, we’d be in business.

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