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(NOTE: It was brought to my attention that WJZ-TV reported and tweeted that an officer had died as early as 2:40 p.m., hours before the official announcement and approximately 40 minutes after the incident occurred. If he was aware of it, that certainly could have been a factor in Governor Hogan’s tweet. The WJZ-TV tweet is at the bottom of this post.)
One of the perils of social media was on display quite prominently yesterday (Monday) afternoon following the murder of a Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio. It’s a familiar issue — tweets and posts claiming there has been a line-of-duty-death before the jurisdiction involved makes an official announcement. What was different about yesterday’s premature tweet is that it came directly from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan Jr. and it allowed the mainstream news media to report the officer had died well before Baltimore County was prepared to make an official announcement.
Governor Hogan sent this message (above) to express condolences on the death “of a Baltimore County Police Officer after she was shot in the line of duty today.” That tweet came at 4:04 p.m., about two hours after the incident occurred. Not only had the Baltimore County Police Department not officially confirmed the death, as of last night, they still hadn’t confirmed the officer had been shot.
The local news media in Baltimore took note of the significance of Governor Hogan’s tweet:
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton, whose tweet (above) described Governor Hogan’s message as a “major communication breakdown”, addressed this problem almost eight-years-ago in an article with the headline “On social media, bad news spreads quickly”. Fenton’s article prompted my column “Social media & the line-of-duty-death: Racing against Facebook and not always winning”. But both articles were about the public being the problem and not necessarily government officials.
While I am certain there was no malicious intent on the part of Governor Hogan, it’s a pretty significant communications SNAFU that has the potential to cause harm. Like the rest of us, Hogan and other politicians now express their condolences via social media. This is true whether it’s the loss of a relative, friend or acquaintance or a traumatic death that makes headlines. Social media is where we do our grieving.
In my social media classes I remind those in public safety that quite often premature LODD tweets, posts and comments originate internally from firefighters, police officers or their family and friends. After my 2010 column, IAFF Local 2068 in Fairfax County, Virginia reminded its members that before posting on social media about a serious injury or LODD, first verify that the department has made an official announcement. It’s an important message for all of us, including governors.