By Allison Jackson
As news of the Paris attacks broke on Friday, social media users flooded Facebook and Twitter to express their horror and share the latest updates about the mass shooting underway in the French capital.
Mainstream media reports of the terrorist attacks were accompanied by shocking eyewitness accounts, images and videos, as people around the world tried to stay informed and share up-to-the-minute information about the worst violence to strike the country since World War II.
But, as has happened in previous breaking news stories, the rush to report and share also led to the spread of misinformation, half-truths, rumors, conspiracy theories and outright lies, which in the chaos were passed off — and often accepted — as facts.
Here’s a quick correction to the record.
1. Eiffel Tower goes dark
Wow. Lights off on the Eiffel Tower for the first time since 1889. pic.twitter.com/ZkeU5GmJfM
— #JeSuisLauraLoomer (@ProfJeffJarviss) November 14, 2015
Some of the misleading posts were harmless, such as claims that the lights of the Eiffel Tower had been switched off in honor of the victims when actually the city’s most famous landmark goes dark every night at 1 a.m.
2. Empire State Building lights up
In the wake of the tragedy in Paris, The #EmpireStateBuilding went dark at 10:00 PM/ET on Friday, November 13, 2015, in sympathy for Paris.
— Empire State Bldg (@EmpireStateBldg) November 14, 2015
There was similar misreporting about the Empire State Building in New York City, with widely shared images of the iconic skyscraper showing it lit up in the red, white and blue of the French national flag. The truth was less colorful — the lights of the building had actually been turned off in solidarity.
3. Donald Trump says something offensive
Twitter users shared what appeared to be a tastelessly timed pro-gun message from Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. The tweet was actually months old. Trump originally posted it in January in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
His actual response to Friday’s attacks was significantly less inflammatory.
My prayers are with the victims and hostages in the horrible Paris attacks. May God be with you all.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 13, 2015
4. A soccer player becomes a hero
English soccer player Martin Kelly was supposedly spotted helping the injured in Paris — wrong, again. It’s true that Kelly was in the city on Friday night, but he wasn’t in the photo making the rounds.
5. Hollande suffers a stroke
If you're seeing a report that Hollande has had a stroke, don't share it. It's fake.
— Briän Ries (@moneyries) November 13, 2015
6. Calais on fire
— ✪ Area ✈ 82 ✪ (@Surveillance911) November 14, 2015
Some early reports linked a fire at a refugee camp in Calais in northern France to the Paris attacks. But the incident appears to have been a coincidence rather than retaliation.
Local news in Calais are reporting the fire was linked to an electric incident and is unrelated to Paris https://t.co/wN49Bs7qYs
— Gabrielle (@digitalyn) November 14, 2015
7. Terrorist Playstations
News media reported that the Paris attackers had used Sony’s PlayStation 4 consoles to communicate before Friday’s shootings. The original report by Forbes was later corrected after the journalist realized he had mistakenly linked comments made by a Belgian official to the Paris attacks.
8. Massive demonstrations in Paris
In the aftermath of the shootings some images showed huge marches in Paris — except those photos were old, too.
The Parisians in the photos were rallying in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting.
9. Conspiracies and photoshops
Some posts seemed designed to fuel hysteria — such as these photos on Instagram, showing a woman some people claimed had been present at previous attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook school massacre.
Other information was downright malicious and potentially life-threatening.
A selfie taken by Canada-based journalist Veerender Jubbal standing in front of a mirror holding an iPad was edited to show him wearing a suicide vest and holding the Quran. The image, which led some to believe that Jubbal, a Sikh, was one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks, went viral and was published by a number of newspapers.
There’s no question that social media networks have become a powerful tool for communication, particularly during fast-developing events.
But, once again, the widespread posting and sharing of incorrect information — intentionally or not — should remind us that our desire to inform and engage can actually lead to confusion and panic.
Think before you tweet.