MATT BORS does not know Ryan Lanza. But he is Facebook friends with Lanza, which in the immediate news muddle after a horrific tragedy, in Bors’s own words, “became a problem.”
As the soul-shaking news broke Friday morning of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left dozens dead, the suspected gunman was initially identified as being Ryan Lanza — and not the actual shooter, his younger brother, Adam.
Meanwhile in Oregon, the syndicated political cartoonist Bors, as he “had done not one week earlier when there was a mass shooting a few miles from my home in Portland ... ,” he writes, “watched the real time updates, trying to wrap my mind around being a part of the human race.”
Among those updates, soon enough, were Facebook status updates from Ryan Lanza, which Bors was able to view. “People I knew were suddenly telling me, dude, you are Facebook friends with the suspect,” Bors writes on his blog, noting that he doesn’t know many of his Facebook friends — he presumes they are likely followers of his comics. “His wall was set to private so I was one of the only people seeing Ryan post ‘[Expletive] you CNN it wasn’t me’ and ‘IT WASN’T ME I WAS AT WORK IT WASN’T ME.’ ”
Bors says he posted a screen shot from Lanza on his Facebook and Twitter accounts — and that’s when one small part of the news cycle spun madly toward him. He writes that he was “inundated with messages, some from journalists seeking confirmation, many from people saying angry and bizarre things to me or about Ryan. One demanded to know how I could be friends with such a monster.” He says he was called a ”snitch,” and attempts were made to enlist him as an Internet “sleuth.”
The reason any of this is relevant to a larger conversation — especially in the wake of such a massively resonant tragedy — is how the heat of the aftermath causes stories to spill out wildly, sometimes recklessly, online (not to mention outright hoaxes, such as post-shooting commentary widely misattributed over the weekend to actor Morgan Freeman).
“We’ve had problems with journalism and online culture for a while, but finding myself in the position I was in Friday made it all depressingly clear for me,” Bors tells Comic Riffs on Sunday.
“It’s as if we’re desensitized to each other online,” the Universal Uclick editorial cartoonist tells us. “The weird hate-vibes I got from strangers would probably have been 10 times worse if I [were] a woman.”
“This frenzy to find the killer’s Facebook page was pushed by a click-hungry media, who starts fact-checking after they post the story and corrects things from there,” continues Bors, a 2012 Herblock Prize winner who also works as a comics journalist and Cartoon Movement editor. “Who knows how many millions of people were misinformed?
“Ryan Lanza must have had the worst day of his life Friday and people who should have known better — who are paid to know better — made it even worse.”
Note: Many news organizations,