Police said the boy was not in costume.
“(Social media) is kind of a lubricant — it makes it really easy to get our comments and our ideas out there from anyone who wants to, but it doesn't necessarily make them correct,” said Jeff Sonderman, digital media fellow for the Poynter Institute. “We still have to be very careful about vetting the things we see in these different social media settings and not assume.”
A false Twitter report that claimed Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was dead after a 2011 shooting in Arizona was retweeted and ultimately reported as fact by National Public Radio and several other news outlets. But the congresswoman was alive.
In another case, a newspaper published the name of a dead juvenile against the wishes of his parents and police because it was already being passed around on Facebook, Sonderman said.
The rules of ethics taught in journalism school aren't necessarily understood by the untrained eyewitness reporter of the 21st century, he said.
“Like any physical tool, you can wield it in different ways and with different intents,” he said. “Whether it becomes good or not comes down to how people in each case are using them, and also it kind of comes down to what the community sets as expectations around it. It's possible that over time, we'll develop higher expectations for ourselves.”
Stillwater Police Capt. Randy Dickerson said his office has been busy shooting down rumors:
“You're always going to have rumors and gossip. The problem now is it spreads so quickly, it takes on a life of its own.”