A real story turned fake witch hunt
While social media and instantaneous news on the Internet can spread vital information faster than ever before in history, it comes at a grave price.
In 2016, the world became all too familiar with the concept of “fake news,” although we’ve been getting it in every medium since the dawn of time. Rumors, unfounded stories, incorrect research, misquotes, and outright lies adorn far too many of today’s headlines, whether done deliberately for sales or mistakenly when a story is rushed out too quickly.
Now, a disturbing case involving the kidnapping and torture of a mentally-challenged man in the Chicago area—all of which was broadcast on social media—has grown even more complicated after a fake mugshot of one of the perpetrators was released and accepted to be real. Here’s what we know (for sure).
The State of the News
Throughout the modern history of journalism, the only constant has been that sensational headlines sell. Whether that meant breaking fantastic-but-true stories or following Hearst’s dubious practices of exaggeration, yellow journalism is still a real threat to our democracy and personal lives today.
The proliferation of news sources attempting to sell a paper or get that extra viewer or click means that even the most reputable of stations, sites, and outlets are rushing to push out breaking news, often even before it’s been fully proven. The New York Timeseven did a case study on how it works and how social media often serves to add fuel to the fire.
In Cold Blood
Such is the case with a truly unsettling story coming out of Chicago this week.
On Tuesday, a group of 18-year-olds from Chicago posted a Facebook Live video that many found hard to believe was real. Filmed by Brittany Herring, who also goes by the name Brittany Covington, the live video showed her and several friends yelling, smoking, and enjoying themselves while scaring, assaulting, and torturing a distressed man who appears tied up and bloodied in a corner. During the series of videos, the group is seen hitting, cutting, beating, and threatening the man. At one point, they force him to drink out of a toilet.
By the evening, the victim—an 18-year-old mentally-challenged man—was in the hospital in stable condition, and all four perpetrators were in police custody.
The enormity of the crime should be enough to make anybody’s blood boil. But then it got political, and suddenly everything got somehow worse.
A Divided America
At face value, it’s clear to see that all four perpetrators involved are black, while the victim is a white man. Racial slurs are shouted throughout the video, and while the police have not yet announced whether or not the abuse was racially motivated or a hate crime, people have jumped to their own conclusions.
Aside from shouting other abuse at the victim, the perpetrators repeat “F**k white people” several times throughout the recording and make other disparaging remarks concerning the white man’s skin color and alleged beliefs. They also shout “F**k Donald Trump” multiple times, and at one point, they force the victim to say so at knifepoint.
Now, people are demanding that the teens be charged with a hate crime, and across social media and the web, the terrible incident is being referred to as the “BLMKidnapping,” with people directly claiming that Black Lives Matter kidnapped and tortured the man.
The story was already far-fetched. But then it took on a new victim, a young woman totally unrelated to the case whose mugshot was passed around as Brittany’s. Keep reading.