The protests in St Louis were portrayed differently in national news outlets versus social media. Photo by Paul Sableman courtesy of Flickr.
National news organizations have historically been one of the only ways that an American citizen could get any information about the goings on in other parts of the nation. While it is still imperative for news to quickly reach as many citizens as possible, the age of social media has made it much easier for firsthand accounts to be spread directly.
Oftentimes the media will twist a narrative to serve their corporate owner rather than telling an unbiased truth. More stock should be placed in primary sources rather than media interpretation of national events.
A recent event that demonstrates the contrast of media reports and personal accounts is the recent ruling on a first-degree murder charge lodged against Jason Stockley, a police officer that shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Stockley was heard saying that he was going to kill Smith following a car chase after a suspected drug transaction. After rear-ending Smith’s car, Stockley exited his vehicle and fired his pistol at Smith’s vehicle five times.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in 2012 and settled in 2013, but a first-degree murder charge was filed in 2016. A not-guilty ruling was reached on September 15 of this year.
Protests have spread across St Louis due to this verdict. However, national media organizations like Fox News and The Washington Post report that the protests turned into riots or “clashes” after dark. Quotes from police claim that citizens were the ones to incite violence, and that is the story that gets spread to the rest of the country via these news sites.
Alternatively, residents of St Louis tell a different story in social media posts on Facebook and Twitter. One such post shares a Guardian article published on September 18. The article describes St Louis police chanting late Saturday night after “successfully clearing the street of demonstrators and onlookers.” Two eyewitness accounts dispute the end of that sentence.
“The protests last night WERE peaceful,” a St Louis resident recounts above the article. “The demo [sic] was over and people were leaving when police drove a car into the crowd … to instigate.” Another eyewitness adds, “I couldn’t believe it was happening. That car backing up through the crowd was terrifying.”
But eyewitness accounts are not always true either. Although they may not be paid by corporations, residents of a city can also lie about the events that occur there. They may also have a different interpretation of the actions of others, like the eyewitnesses who claim protesters loot grocery stores and restaurants when they are going in for milk to flush their eyes from tear gas.
The best way to avoid these differing interpretations is to see the videos firsthand. While some news articles share Facebook users’ videos, such as the video of a St Louis police officer breaking a window during the recent protests, many choose to present the information in their own words or with quotes from police officers or other officials.
United States news organizations such as The Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN will never stop being the first source of communication on events to the average person. Be that as it may, more people should be seeking out accounts from actual residents when it comes to political protests or otherwise biased events to be able to view primary sources and subsequently form their own opinions.