#Cupertino: After deadly shooting, social media users break the news (PODCAST)
By Eric Johnson | 19 Oct 2011
News of the Oct. 5 shootings at the Lehigh Permanente Quarry in tech-savvy Cupertino quickly appeared and spread on social media sites as reporters and local citizens tried to make sense of the danger.
The affluent and generally safe community, best known as the global headquarters of Apple, awoke to learn that quarry truck driver Shareef Allman, 47, had opened fire on co-workers during a pre-dawn safety meeting. Throughout the day, as police searched door-to-door for the suspect in Cupertino and Sunnyvale, citizens following the story would use websites and social media tools to monitor the manhunt.
Local news outlets reacted quickly online. KCBS News (740 AM/106.9 FM) was the first to update its followers on Twitter at 6:04 a.m. but with the wrong quarry and town named:
Two killed, 4 others seriously hurt after a shooting, apparently at a workplace, outside the Stevenson Creek Quarry in Santa Clara Co.
At 6:08 a.m., ABC 7 correctly identified Cupertino as the site of the shooting. The station’s update, retweeted by popular social media news aggregator @BreakingNews, was then re-shared by nearly 100 Twitter users in the following hours:
About 90 minutes later, at 7:32, NBC and @BreakingNews (which is run by MSNBC) erroneously reported online that a third person had died in the quarry shooting, but that claim was redacted within 20 minutes:
UPDATE: 3rd person dead in Cupertino, Calif., shooting; police not sure if shooter still at quarry – @nbcbayarea http://t.co/Ek8CLgmG
Burt Herman, CEO of Storify, a social networking publishing platform used to produce this piece, said the way people have begun to process their news has changed. Individuals are more comfortable sharing news quickly with one another through Facebook, Twitter, e-mails and text messages. He said that was the case the day of the shootings.
With people sharing information at a remarkable pace, there’s greater risk of widespread misinformation. Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobsand a visiting lecturer in the Department of Communication at Stanford University, said the danger of social media sites like Twitter is that not all eyewitness accounts can be trusted at face value.
“Some news that breaks fast, you can get first on Twitter, and some news that breaks fast, you can get first on Twitter, and it’s wrong,” Rheingold said. “Let the buyer beware, but also let the buyer be aware.”
He added that the news has been “unbundled,” with much of people’s attention now captured by non-experts online, even if those people aren’t experts about what makes news.
But journalists, editors, curators and bloggers still have a role, Herman said, which is probably more important than ever. Someone still needs to sort through the rumor and hearsay — professionals uncover information and find the truth within.
At the San Jose Mercury News, self-described “old-school reporter” Sean Webby said the mainstream media produces much of the breaking information that circulates online. Webby leaves it to more social media-savvy colleagues to promote and distribute the Mercury News‘ coverage. His focus, he said, is to find out what’s going on firsthand and through trusted sources.
“I’m not saying that the average person, Joe the Plumber or whomever, doesn’t have the right or shouldn’t be out there blogging about what their experiences are, what they’re finding out,” Webby said. “That can be enormously helpful. I am saying that…the mode might be quickly changing, but in terms of the content itself, I think we’re still pretty vital.”
AOL’s hyperlocal news site Patch entered the discussion in an uneven fashion. The Mountain View Patch, @MtnViewPatch, retweeted updates about the shooting from the San Jose Mercury-News, asked questions of followers, and updated information about the shooter attributed to the Sunnyvale Police.
According to KRON4, the manhunt continues in Sunnyvale. @mountainviewPD is there anything #mountainview should do? #shooting #lehighquarry
Reporters at the Cupertino Patch didn’t begin tweeting until after noon, but then jumped into the conversation by touching base with followers from the area, both to find new information and to ask personal questions of acquaintances like: “Are you and your sister OK?”
UPDATE #cupertino shooting. Sheriff has verified that there are now three dead. folo: cupertino.patch.com
By midday, “quarry” was the most-searched term on Google, according to the Mountain View-based tech giant’s Google Trends.
On Twitter, those following the story used the hashtag #cupertino to collect links and observations as local and federal forces searched for Allman. However, #cupertino was not popular enough to break into Twitter’s global top-ten “trending topics.” It peaked in third place on a local trending topic list for the San Francisco area.
Peter Bergstrom, a web architect who works in Cupertino, said he usually does more reading than tweeting when he uses Twitter. But when he heard about Allman’s rampage, he decided to put the site to productive use.
“Our building was in lockdown, we can’t go outside,” Bergstrom said. “There was no information. So, I thought, ‘You know, I should just check this out.’”
Online, he found a website where anyone could listen to the Santa Clara County Sherriff’s police radio transmissions, and shared the link with his followers on Twitter. By mid-afternoon, more than 1,200 other listeners heard what the authorities were talking about as they scrambled to respond to the shootings. (By day’s end, three of the victims had died and six were injured.)
Among the first information turned up about the alleged shooter was his connection to San Jose cable-access station CreaTV. As a producer for CreaTV — but not a full-time employee, according to KTVU — Allman once interviewed civil rights activist Jesse Jackson for community-based television show “Real2Real.” But after several news outlets picked up the YouTube video of the interview, CreaTV removed it from its YouTube page.
Shareef Allman, suspect in two separate shootings this morning in Cupertino and Sunnyvale, used to host a local TV show, Real 2 Real. Shareef pictured at right, interviewing Jesse Jackson. (Photo: screen capture from YouTube)
Social media buzz about the quarry shooting was not limited to news updates. Citizens of Cupertino and the surrounding communities were quick to discuss the news that an armed gunman was at large in their backyard.
#Video > #Cupertino shooting > #Gunman on loose, reportingto police he will do more damage! http://j.mp/nsgrUU – abc
Later in the day, though, Twitter users across the country began to make comments of their own. Some included questions for their followers, prayers for the safety of others, personal observations, racially charged remarks and even jokes about the situation. Posts came in English, Spanish and Mandarin. Over 1,200 citizens tuned in to follow the live scanner feed of the Santa Clara County Sheriff”s Office online, with the link to the feed website propagated on Twitter alongside other updates:
“@nbcbayarea: Cupertino workplace shooting: suspect identified as Shareef Allman, a 45-year-old African-American male from San Jose.GUILTY!
Twitter allows for individuals to create an audience and user base via followers and subscriptions, and those followers begin to develop a relationship with those whose information they’re reading.
“Everyone can publish the news now,” Herman said, adding that they can inform the world about what is happening in front of their eyes as well as gathering their information from a variety of smaller, more personal sources.
Herman said earlier this week in San Francisco, upon hearing helicopters flying above, he turned not to the television but instead to Twitter. Noticing an increase in hash tags of “haight” Herman was made aware of a nearby fire that was under control a few blocks away.
He said the public no longer relies on only one major source like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. An “ultimate transparency,” Herman said, is becoming increasingly popular in the news people want.