WDIV’s Devin Scillian Reflects on the Flow of Information in a Fast-Moving Crisis
February 24, 2023
Following last week's tragic event on the Michigan State University campus, WDIV-TV (Detroit) anchor Devin Scillian took to the station's website to share his thoughts on "how misinformation was being posted on various social media sites, and the station was being “so pushed and prodded to share disinformation.” The MAB shares some excerpts from his complete post:
Scillian writes, "Anyone who watched our coverage of the shooting at Michigan State Monday night heard me share (twice, I believe) the well-worn adage that “the first casualty of war is the truth. There are a million issues needing our (and your) attention surrounding the shooting, but I think it wise to take a moment to talk a little about the flow of information in a fast-moving crisis."
"I’ve had far more experience with this than I’d prefer, and whatever expertise I have has been hard-won, from the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City to the events of Monday night in East Lansing. I’ve made my share of mistakes in live news coverage, that’s for sure. But while the news media has slowly but sensibly prioritized being right over being first, we do so in a digital atmosphere that allows information and disinformation to ping around the globe in the blink of an eye."
"Throughout Monday evening, I kept receiving messages via social media, email and text. Some sought to share information that someone had seen on Twitter or Facebook while others parroted something that had been shared over police scanners. These included frustration from some viewers who couldn’t understand why we weren’t sharing information that was there for the taking from scanner traffic, the unspoken insinuation being that scanner traffic must amount to reliable, official information as it comes straight from dispatchers and officers in the field without any pesky communications directors or journalists acting as middlemen."
Scillian concludes, "I had a Twitter feed open at the anchor desk that was pegged to the MSU hashtag and while it shared plenty of sincere empathy and fear over what was happening, it also quickly became a vomitorium of slander, amateur detective dabbling, and tasteless attempts at humor. In particular, some users were circulating photos that clearly didn’t match the description given by MSU PD, perhaps hindering efforts to find the real shooter.
I’m pretty proud of the sober approach we took into the shooting at MSU, and, for that matter, the shooting at Oxford High School. I’m heartened that our priority isn’t, well, priority. But I’m constantly reminded that this has become an increasingly difficult task with all of those ones and zeros zinging around us at the speed of light.
I’ve covered so many tragedies over the years, but this was a new experience being so pushed and prodded to share disinformation. Winston Churchill said that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth even gets its pants on. What would Sir Winston make of Twitter?"
Read Scillian's complete post here.