Mon, Jul 25, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Social media a mixed bag amid Munich shooting

AFP, MUNICH, Germany

German Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maiziere speaks to reporters in Munich, Germany, on Saturday.

Photo: AP

Social networks were both a curse and a blessing in the deadly shopping mall shooting in Munich, as police sometimes found themselves chasing fictitious leads and false alarms.

The 18-year-old gunman, a German-Iranian named David Ali Sonboly, also used the Internet to plan and carry out his crime, in which he killed nine people and wounded 16.

Nevertheless, the social networks provided a valuable source of information and solidarity for the city’s population during the long lockdown while the incident was going on.

As soon as the events started to unfold late on Friday afternoon, Munich police officers were quick to take to Twitter to try to keep the public informed about the confusing and fast-evolving situation.

“We’re working as fast as we can to apprehend the attackers,” they tweeted in German, English and French. “The suspects are still on the run. Please avoid public places. #munich #gunfire.”

“Unconfirmed reports of more violence and possible #gunfire in the city center. Situation is unclear. Please avoid public areas,” they wrote.

As social network users began to tweet and retweet their own experiences and versions of events, it rapidly became difficult for police to retain an overview and in some cases differentiate between fact and fiction.

At one point there were a flurry of reports of another shooting in the city center, on the pedestrian square called the Stachus not far from the main station.

Those reports turned out to be false.

Another headache for police were eye-witness accounts, photographs and videos that were rapidly being uploaded onto the Web.

Police were concerned that the attackers — at that point they erroneously believed there might have been more than one — could track where officers were being deployed and in what numbers, thereby making them easier to evade.

The police tweeted: “Please don’t take fotos or video of police action in order to avoid any helpful information for the suspects.”

Police chief Hubertus Andrae told ZDF public television late on Saturday that the speed and volume of information that needed to be verified was “challenging.”

The official Twitter account proved useful in keeping the public informed about the latest confirmed facts, such as the number of people killed or the time and place of the next news conference.

Police themselves inadvertently helped fan some of the speculation by tweeting, for example, that the theory of a possible terrorist act was being looked at.

At one point, police felt compelled to publish a plea: “Please restrain any speculations — that would help us a lot!”

“Nowadays, in the age of social networks, it is no longer the police who have control over the quantity and timing of the release of information, but everyone,” German Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maiziere said.

“There are sometimes advantages in that as can be seen in the number of investigations that have been brought to a successful conclusion thanks to photos and videos taken by private individuals,” De Maiziere told a news conference.

In the US, for example, the investigation into the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013 was able to progress quickly as a result of such information.

However, “it’s clear that rumors can spread rapidly and that isn’t always conducive to an accurate evaluation of the situation,” the minister said.

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