Twitter, Facebook and Facebook Live video posts from people on the scene took the news of Keith Lamont Scott’s death Tuesday, and the following protest, viral in mere hours.
And that dramatic power of social media is “both helping and hurting,” says Kaveri Subrahmanyam of California State University.
She’s associate director of its Children’s Digital Media Center, part of a national consortium focusing on media psychology.
The tools “empower the public” with an easy, free way to “directly share their experiences without any filter. Video footage of such incidents is very compelling.”
But “they also make it possible for rumors and other falsehoods to spread – and could likely make a tense situation worse.” Still, she said, social media, overall, “has really helped” raise awareness of police shootings.
By 9 p.m. Tuesday, a Facebook video of a woman identifying herself as Scott’s daughter had been viewed nearly half a million times. In the video, originally live-streamed, she says he was unarmed, sitting in his car reading a book and waiting for the school bus to drop off his son before he was shot.
That narrative differed from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s, which said that a handgun was found at the scene of the north Charlotte shooting, and that a book was not.
In a press conference Wednesday morning, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney acknowledged the difference: “I can tell you from the facts that the stories will be different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media.”
People on the scene Tuesday night used Twitter and live-streaming video on Facebook to show where protesters were gathering, police reactions and the increasing tensions as the night progressed.
One Charlotte poster’s two-hour-plus live video, one of 11 posted on Mills Shaka Zulu Gill’s page over about eight hours, had nearly 2 million views by Wednesday afternoon, and had been shared more than 100,000 times. His posts included conversations with people who said they had witnessed the shooting, sweeping views of protesters chanting and a running personal commentary. Viewers’ comments included “Watching you from Australia.”
Other posters and commenters gave specific addresses for where protesters were, and instructions – “Come out” in voiceovers, to “BRING WATER AND FIRST AID KITS.” Some posted that protesters were peaceful. In other posted videos, water bottles being hurled at police are visible.
The hashtags #KeithLamontScott and #CharlotteProtests were trending within hours in Charlotte and beyond, alongside #blacklivesmatter and #TerenceCrutcher, the name of a man shot by police in Tulsa, Okla., last week.
Earlier this summer, a black man named Philando Castile was shot by police in Minnesota less than 48 hours after a similar shooting in Louisiana, in which a white officer killed a black man named Alton Sterling. In both cases, cellphone video footage of the shooting or its immediate aftermath quickly spread on social media, fueling anger and protests.
The Washington Post contributed.
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