After Las Vegas shooting, social media can provide support

By Editorial Board

On the night of Oct. 1, a gunman opened fire during a country music festival in Las Vegas. The gunman took 58 lives and left hundreds of people physically injured and emotionally traumatized. 

On the morning of Oct. 2, people far from Las Vegas went through their regular early Monday routines and were bombarded across media platforms by violent images from the massacre broadcast as America’s deadliest mass shooting. For those who found television news too upsetting to watch, the trending stories on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites left no opportunity to escape the reports coming from Las Vegas. 

In this digital age, we cannot escape tragic news. The world is too connected by a variety of social media platforms to make ignoring what happens around us an option. Although information accessibility allows us to live more informed lives, what we do with the information is important.

Only hours after innocent people were gunned down, misinformation from internet hoaxes and politicized fake news streamed through Twitter.

A far-right site, Gateway Pundit, posted a fallacy-ridden article misidentifying the shooter and claimed the gunman was “a Democrat who liked Rachel Maddow” and part of an anti-Trump army. Multiple users on sites like Twitter falsely claimed their loved ones were in Las Vegas at the time of the shooting and were missing. On Oct. 2, Buzzfeed began listing the internet hoaxes appearing after the shooting, updating the list during the day. As of press time, 20 stories or posts with false information were reported. 

It’s not fair to cast social media as a dark landscape that breeds cynicism and misinformation. When news broke of the shooting in Las Vegas and became a trending story, social media allowed people to check on their loved ones. Facebook’s check-in feature, which allows users near areas affected by an emergency to quickly give friends updates on their safety, is such a mechanism, lending reassurance after a disaster or tragedy. Twitter performs a similar function. 

Ideally, this is how social media should be used after tragedies like this. The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the location of the gunman’s attack,  used the resort’s Facebook page to comfort the nation by relaying news of the availability of crisis counselors and help hotlines and by sending a message of support that many needed to hear in the devastating aftermath. 

Social media gives us a choice in how we respond to tragedies: We can choose to do harm in the form of fake news stories in the name of political divisiveness or unsympathetic internet hoaxes, or we can choose to use this technology to heal after tragedy.