by Lauren Buckles
On December 15, 17 people were held hostage for over 16 fours at a Lindt cafe in Sydney, Australia. Across the street from that cafe is a major Australian news station.
These days, the news is reported 24/7 through multiple sources. The reporting on the “Sydney Siege” was no different. Many news sources such as The Mirror in the UK and 9News in Australia, set up live blog updates and even live streaming – notably featuring armed police surrounding the building. After a few hours, Australian police asked 9News to take down the live feed. The reason? They feared the gunman was using it to gain information. This actually happened in 2008 in Mumbai. A series of terrorist acts killed 164 people; during that time, it was discovered the terrorist were using live TV news feeds to track police movement.
Across social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, users speculated the Sydney siege was planned by IS or another Muslim extremist group. The gunman turned out to be a self described cleric and not officially affiliated with IS. Thankfully, the information regarding the situation was kept civil and didn’t contain personal information. Once again, a similar thing happened back in April 2013, after the Boston Marathon bombing. Only it was a huge disaster. Users on Reddit started to actively take the search of the culprits into their own hands, posting pictures and personal information about two men who were at the marathon. These speculations stereotyped these two as Muslim extremist based on their name, how they looked, and the fact that they were carrying backpacks. The New York Post then took these speculations and printed it on their front page, saying the “feds” were looking for them. It came out that federal investigators weren’t investigating the two men at all, but another suspect which proved to be the true culprit. These two men were later cleared by investigators.
After the siege, 9News in Australia reported record-breaking views of their live video feed of the crisis. Several newspapers in Australia reported on the tragedy using a variety of descriptors, ranging from restrained/respectful to accusatory. In the wake of the tragedy, Muslims, especially women who wear the hijab, where concerned about possible hate crimes. In response, Australians on twitter started the hashtag #illridewithyou, for those who wanted companions to ride the subway with them.
Social media has revolutionized how news stories are seen. It is very human to want to pass information along, to reassure loved ones, and share opinions and personal stories. Recently, hashtags such as #icantbreathe, #justiceformikebrown, and #illridewithyou symbolize solidarity with those communities with hundreds of thousands of participants. But, tweets and posts can be misconstrued and interpreted in ways one didn’t even consider. I think, while social media is an invaluable resource, we all need to take a step back and think critically about how these stories are being written. Information is more readily available then ever; the need for major news sources to fact check and show restraint in reporting these stories is urgent. Lives depend on it.
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