Shooting in Munich

Social media posts a headache for police

A man holding up a photo of his son killed in the shooting as he talks to reporters. During the attack, social media made it hard for police to tell apart real and false news.
A man holding up a photo of his son killed in the shooting as he talks to reporters. During the attack, social media made it hard for police to tell apart real and false news.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MUNICH • The buzzing social networks after the deadly shopping mall shooting in Munich kept police chasing fictitious leads and false alarms.

The social networks provided a valuable source of information and solidarity for the city's frightened population during the long lockdown while the incident was going on. As soon as the terrifying events started to unfold late on Friday afternoon, Munich's police were quick to take to Twitter to try to keep the public informed about the confusing and fast-evolving situation.

"We're working as fast as we can to apprehend the attackers," they tweeted in German, English and French. "The suspects are still on the run. Please avoid public places. #munich #gunfire".

But as social network users began to tweet and re-tweet their own experiences and versions of events, it rapidly became difficult for the police to retain an overview and in some cases differentiate between fact and fiction.

At one point, for example, there were a flurry of reports of another shooting in the city centre. But those reports turned out to be false.

Another headache for police were eyewitness accounts, photos and videos that were rapidly being uploaded onto the Web.

Police were concerned that the attackers - at that point, they erroneously believed there might have been more than one - could track where officers were being deployed and in what numbers, thereby making them easier to evade.

In the end, the police desperately tweeted: "Please don't take photos or video of police action in order to avoid any helpful information for the suspects."

At another point, police felt compelled to publish a plea, "Please restrain any speculations - that would help us a lot!"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Social media posts a headache for police'. Print Edition | Subscribe