Sandy Hook School Shooting

Misidentification of School Shooter Led to Social Media Harassment

Twitter spam, angry Facebook pages, et cetera

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In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut the immediate question was who had gunned down nearly thirty people, most of them children, before taking his own life.

Early reports, citing Connecticut law enforcement sources, identified the shooter as a 20-something from Newtown named Ryan Lanza. A Facebook profile fitting that description was easily accessible, and social media users—from professional reporters to online onlookers—immediately assumed they had discovered the Facebook profile of the gunman who had perpetrated the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. News outlets including Buzzfeed, Mediaite, Gawker, and Fox News speculated that the account belonged to the shooter. Journalists from SlateHuffington Post, CNN, and other news organizations tweeted links to the Facebook profile.