Misinformation of crime through social media

Today, information is obtained from more than just the local newspaper. News has become available in real-time at the tap of a button, through news apps, social media, live streams, and more. While society adapts to our widespread availability of information, it is critical that we recognize the pitfalls that misinformation in media may play in the criminal justice system.

In recent years, the frequency of mass killings has increased significantly. Specifically, 78 mass shootings occurred in the United States between 1983 and 2012 (Bartol & Bartol, 2021). In contrast, the Gun Violence Archive recently reported that approximately 650 mass shootings occurred in 2023. And while many serious crimes are cause for concern, multiple murder crimes like mass shootings can have profound effects on both the victims and their community. This is when our avid use of social media may pose an issue.

On October 1, 2017, a gunman began shooting at thousands of concertgoers during a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada (Blankstein et al., 2017). In the end, over 50 were killed and over 500 left injured (Blankstein et al., 2017). This incident would later become the country’s deadliest mass shooting (Blankstein et al., 2017). As the shooting progressed, social media became flooded with misinformed reports of multiple shooters along the Las Vegas Strip. Local police officials later confirmed that the shooting was a single event, in only one area, executed by a sole gunman (LVMPD, 2018). In the midst of social media’s instant reach, misinformation can quickly spread and induce even more hysteria or fear. Dr. James Alan Fox, a Northeastern criminology professor, raises a thought-provoking point: “In the face of hyperbolic media coverage and public fear, we tend to embrace easy solutions and quick fixes that don’t necessarily work and sometimes make matters worse” (SCCJ, n.d.).

Because of the prevalence social media has, we should consider how powerful posting may be to those involved, those waiting to hear news, and those who may have experienced similar trauma. Following a mass killing, social media may buzz for weeks or months about the perpetrator, their motive, resharing newly discovered materials on these individuals, and so on. Understandably, an involved individual may experience retraumatization or face difficulty moving forward during a social media frenzy. So, as we become engulfed in learning more about the how’s or why’s of these crimes, we must also be extremely sensitive to the impactful nature of them.



Bartol, C. R. & Bartol, A. M. (2021). Criminal behavior: A psychological approach (12th ed.). Pearson.

Gun Violence Archive. (2023). GVA – 10 Year Review [Data set]. Gun Violence Archive. https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD). (2018). LVMPD Criminal Investigative Report of the 1 October Mass Casualty Shooting. LVMPD.

School of Criminology & Criminal Justice (SCCJ). (n.d.) Mass Killing Database. Northeastern University. https://cssh.northeastern.edu/sccj/mass-killing-database/

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