11132018Tue
Last updateFri, 09 Nov 2018 11am

Columns

The pitfalls of social media

“I saw on Facebook that the Attorney General of the state of Jalisco has been shot at the Hotel Perico.”

pg13a“Two narco groups are shooting at each other around there and then the cops got involved.”

“They went after a capo (drug lord) in Chapala … he escaped on the libromento (sic) and a shoot out began.”

“Six bodies were found near the Libramiente (sic) towards Ajijic.”

“Walmart got robbed and also a bank in Chapala.”

That’s just a sampling of bizarre and contradictory messages that went viral on social media last week as hundreds of police and military officers stormed lakeside in pursuit of a local kidnapping gang.

It’s no surprise that the incident prompted a feeding frenzy on Facebook, Twitter and Web boards.  The startling show of law enforcement power is not an everyday occurrence in these parts.  And tales of murder and mayhem invariably spark public interest.

Advancing technology has made it ever easier to disseminate breaking news. As people hunger for immediate information, media reporters feel an urgency to get the scoop, even if pertinent details turn out to be wrong.

Getting facts straight can be a challenge when the pressure is on. For example, a correspondent for one Guadalajara outlet posted a video report naming the place of the astounding police operation as the “Municipality of Ajijic.” Oops.

The Guadalajara Reporter makes every effort to be a reliable news source. To meet professional standards, the editorial staff may hold back on filing comprehensive stories until official information is released to the public. In this particular case, Jalisco’s Attorney General delayed issuing a pronouncement until a press conference was called about nine hours after the dust cleared. A subsequent written press release left some questions unanswered.

Was only one of the kidnappers killed in the exchange of gun fire with the authorities? Or were there actually two bad guys downed, as indicated by photos purportedly captured by a local policeman that were shared on various Facebook pages? Were the kidnapping victims U.S. citizens or some other nationality? Were they taken captive together or in separate attacks?

There has been no official follow-up, so we still don’t know the full story, including the legal status of the five suspects arrested in the October sting.

Let’s reflect on the appropriate role for ordinary folks to play in such circumstances. It’s perfectly reasonable to use social media to alert friends and neighbors about dangerous situations unfolding in the community. It can be helpful in advising the public to steer clear from spots where emergency response teams are on the job, as well as to warn innocent bystanders to stay out of harm’s way.

What isn’t useful or prudent is to spread rumors and speculative opinions that are often inaccurate or totally false. It isn’t wise to take the word of your domestic help or a social media post as gospel.  Lamentably, that is the approach that all too often prevails in message sharing through our area’s growing electronic grapevine, especially concerning delicate matters of criminal activity.