Sept. 30, 73-year-old Douglas Watts was shot and killed in Rogers Park while walking his dogs. The next day, 24-year-old Eliyahu Moscowitz was murdered at Loyola Park — just three blocks from where Watts was killed. The shootings were found to be related and put the neighborhood on edge.
It also led to irresponsible rumors about possible sightings of the masked gunman.
Facebook groups, such as “Rogers Park Neighborhood News” and “Roam RoPo,” have been created for students and community members to discuss what’s happening in Rogers Park. Students have turned to the groups to discuss safety tips and up-to-date news around the neighborhood.
But they’ve also been a source of misinformation about supposed sightings of the killer and the murder investigation. In a now-deleted post in “Roam RoPo,” one student falsely reported a shooting at Raising Cane’s, located across the street from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus.
While Loyola students need to be aware of what’s happening, they also have a responsibility to post accurate, sourced information.
The term “fake news” has become one of the most commonly-used phrases of modern discourse. People, including the president of the United States, constantly call the media out when false information makes its way onto the internet or into print.
It’s great students are being active on social media to look out for each other’s safety; however, the information presented needs to be accurate.
The investigation into the killings is still ongoing, and causing public panic isn’t the proper way to treat the situation. Sure, it’s scary and not something most Rogers Park residents have had to deal with, but that doesn’t excuse posts of “I heard someone saw the killer walking to campus” or any variation of the sort.
Saying “I heard” something isn’t sourcing information. Hearsay doesn’t count as a primary source.
Oct. 5, Chicago Police Department (CPD) spokesperson Glen Brooks told The Phoenix Loyola students need to make sure any information they report is accurate before putting it on social media.
In times like these, it’s especially important students only spread information they know is true. CPD and Loyola Campus Safety can only give us the most accurate information available. It’s up to us to ensure only those truthful pieces of information are spread, and that, when we post something on social media or talk to our friends about what is happening, we aren’t passing along “fake news.”
It’s also perfectly okay to say “I don’t know.” In investigations, the police won’t always release all the information they have, and more often than not, people will have questions about what is going in their community. But real questions shouldn’t lead to fake answers, and, in situations like this, instead of spreading misinformation, the more responsible approach should be to wait for the police to complete their investigations and to not interfere with their work.
Loyola students aren’t the only ones who need to be careful about what they post. Rogers Park residents also need to stop causing public panic with unverified information.
Bill Morton, a candidate for 49th Ward alderman, posted a “possible video” of the gunman on YouTube Oct. 9. The video shows a man leaving the Morse Red Line station walking with his toes pointed out — which is how the gunman walked, according to surveillance video released by CPD. The video has received over 1,800 views since it was posted.
The problem with the video is it doesn’t show anything revealing about the man. All it shows is a slender, black man walking down the platform.
In its most extreme cases, false information from the public can make for even bigger problems for the media. After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, allegations started spreading on Reddit saying a missing man named Sunil Tripathi was involved with the attack. As Tripathi’s family was awaiting answers from authorities about his disappearance, news agencies began reporting his picture alongside a blurred security video of the actual suspect.
In another instance in the aftermath of the marathon, the New York Post published a cover story about the two men who were seen carrying bags during the race and implicating them as the alleged attackers. Upon publication, it was discovered the two men didn’t have any involvement with the attack.
The error damaged the credibility of the paper and led to a defamation lawsuit against the Post, which was settled in 2014. While the situation was different from the one in Rogers Park, the principle is still the same: People need to be careful about what information they’re putting out.
It’s natural for people to be paranoid. But paranoia’s amplified when false information is sent out.
With the community still on edge as the killer remains at large, Loyola students and neighborhood residents must make sure all information is accurate before spreading it around the internet.