A person on a Facebook account with the handle Ryan Lanza says the media is falsely citing him as the shooter. There's no way to tell if this image of a Facebook chat is real, either, though. It was tweeted by Twitter user @MattBors, who said he's "FB friend with the profile being sent around."

Fox runs the image of a man from Facebook whose name matches the name being reported as the shooter. (We blurred his face here.)

Facebook groups spring up skewering someone with a name that matches the reported name of the Newtown school shooter, which may or may not be correct.

A Ryan Lanza on Facebook denies being the shooter (that he's alive is a fairly good alibi, assuming this Facebook exchange is real).

A Ryan Lanza on Twitter discovers his name trending and learns quickly why. Again, take this screen grab and account with a grain of salt--but that's the big problem here: not enough grains of salt.

As facts fly, news outlets and websites such as Gawker, which published a post claiming to have found the Facebook profile of the shooter, begin reeling back in their stories. Here Gawker publisher Nick Denton sets the record straight. But is it?

After School Shooting In Newtown, Connecticut, A Social Media Tragedy Plays Out On TV, Web

How news outlets misused social media to break news and branded the wrong young man as a murderer of 20 schoolchildren, seven adults (including his own mother), and himself. It was the accused man's brother.

Facebook doesn't kill people. The media using Facebook kills people's reputations. And several outlets added insult to the injury of a young man who just lost his brother, his mother, and any semblance of privacy for the foreseeable future.

Any news outlet worth its salt rushed to Google and Facebook and Twitter the minute we heard the supposed name of the gunman in a horrific shooting death of 28 people, including 20 children, as many as seven adults (likely including his own mother), and the shooter himself, in the kindergarten classroom and halls of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In the rush to find answers, sometimes someone's online identity and social web can provide clues.

There were lots of hits online for Ryan Lanza, the name being bandied about as that of the shooter. There was a correctional officer, a few kids. And then there was this 20-something-looking guy dark glasses and what could have been a trench coat. (It should be noted that there are several people named "Adolf Hitler" on social media, too, but it doesn't mean Nazi No. 1 is alive and tweeting.) There was even some military game-themed stuff on this one Ryan Lanza's Facebook page. His hometown was listed as Newtown, CT. But he lived in Hoboken, New Jersey.

And then it happened. Pete Williams from NBC News mentioned that Ryan Lanza had a connection to Hoboken.

They were going with the Facebook kid.

Then Fox used his picture (the blurring below is ours).

Then came the denials and claims of wrong ID. The New York Times' Jenna Wortham sent around an image of what looked like statuses from the Facebook Ryan Lanza himself, claiming not only to be alive and not dead inside the Newtown school, but asking people to stop accusing him of some horrific crime based solely on his name and some corresponding social data (no one really knew if those images of Ryan Lanza's Facebook statuses were fake, either, at the time).

At the time of this intitial post, Twitter was alive with people convinced that the Facebook Ryan Lanza was the guy responsible for one of the grisliest mass murders in recent history. As things have developed into the evening of December 14, it appears Ryan Lanza is the brother of the presumed shooter, Adam Lanza. In other words, several prominent media outlets not only got the wrong guy, they slandered Ryan Lanza, a guy whose brother just did something unimaginable before taking the life of his, and Ryan's mother, then his own. His family was wiped out, and, thanks to some slapdash use of social media and an itchy trigger finger, so was his reputation.

Just after 3 p.m. NBC reporter Pete Williams started to sound like he might backtrack. But a moment before he issued a correction about fingering the wrong Lanza, a news conference in Newtown started, and NBC broke away. Finally, at around 3:45 p.m., more than an hour after accusing the wrong guy of mass child murder, Williams said to anchor Lester Holt: "This is an unusual situation where information is being corrected and revised, and, Lester, maybe this is one of them." Not that they had any more solid information with which to correct their slander.

But Holt had already issued a blanket justification right before a teary eyed President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the families from the White House. Holt perfectly summed up the situation for his and other networks' reckless assumptions:

"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," he said, "But information never seems to come as soon as we want it."

Add New Comment


  • Sick and Tired

    This is the result of sloppy journalism.  No fact-checking before going live with info.  I expect ignorant rants on the internet from the uninformed populace at large, but I expect better from professionals who are paid to report the news accurately.  If it's on the internet it must be true ... who these days doesn't know how ridiculous (and potentially dangerous) that assumption is.

  • Annet Maurer

    When an Iranian woman was killed in Tehran, another woman with a very similar name's fb photo was used and she is still living with those consequences of fast "journalism".  Here's a link to an interview with her last week if others are interested. http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/e...

  • Talking isn't knowing

    In addition to naming the wrong guy, media outlests including the venerable New York Times were stating as fact that Lanza's mother was a teacher at the school, and that the classroom in which the children were shot was hers. That also was untrue.

  • RED

    If a teacher had had a pistol or student a rabit rifle in the coat room newtown would be a happier place today

  • Smackin6

    OMG!!! So you think it would be better if teachers had guns to protect the kids?!!! How truly ridiculous is that!!!  It is that foolish kind of logic that created the problem. Don't you see that? 

  • Lcaspara

    like to know why the mother would have bought & registered semi
    automatic weapons? For what purpose? These are killing machines! I know
    the US has the "right to bear arms"... but this is ridiculous!! And why
    if you have a child that has "issues", would these weapons be so
    available to him? One unnamed officer said that Lanza had a "checkered
    past" and had been "a troubled youth for most of his life"! So why were
    any type of firearm in the home??? Something needs to change!!!

  • Joe W

    Do you know the difference between an automatic firearm and a semi-automatic firearm? Do you know what at semi-automatic firearm is because they make up the majority of today's firearms being purchased. There is nothing sinister about a "semi-automatic" firearm despite what the media would like you to believe. You purchase semi-automatic firearms to target shoot, compete in shooting competitions and, yes, for self or home protection. Stop imaginging gangsters hanging off the sides of cars with "tommy guns a-blazing" and do a little research.

  • Antediluvian

    Slogan of today's news media...better to be first and wrong, than to be slower and right.,,,(smh)...

  • Guest

    the problem appears to be thus:

    The accused is the brother of the criminal. It appears that the criminal was carrying the accused ID (probably for liquor purchases)

  • Grandkids3208

    Where was the security at this school that would have kept him from coming in. Where i came from all the schools have security officers at all the schools.

  • Secularhumanist

     The doors were locked, and the security system required somebody to "buzz" him in (unlock the door). I have a theory. He killed his mother, a kindergarten teacher, at her home before school started. I'm wondering if, when he went to the school, he told them at the door that he "was there with his mother's lesson plan" or something to that effect, and they let him in since they knew him.

  • Sandy Jenkins

    I don't know of any school that would keep out a mothers child.  How do you resolve that with security?  That makes this the most scary part of all.

  • CAWilloughby

    This is  problem with media trying to get the news out first, they don't always get it right, and it damages reputations.  Many just try to brush it under the rug, or change the story, hoping they caught it in time.  Get it right the first time.  Correct information is better than fast information.  In regards to snding hate messages, one, if the subject of the hate mail is dead, they are not going to read it, THEIR DEAD!!!  The only thing it would do is hurt family and friends who are victims also really.  Two, if it is only to make you, as an individual, feel better, then why hurt others (the family/friends) with hateful comments?  It is only a selfish act, like that of the shooter, in this case. 

  • Amlikethewind

    Hey guess what guru, FoxNews is not the entire media.  I don't hold you responsible for all the pinheads pitching me CES avails today.... should I?

  • Anjali Mullany

    Did you read the whole article? He's talking about a number of news organizations.

  • g202

    I read the whole article and the only photo posted twice was a screenshot of Fox News.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  

  • Tyler Gray

    No one was more egregious. Fox was sloppier than everyone else. But, to be fair, NBC did its part. This isn't politics. This is basic journalism. If you're defending Fox here, you, not we, have an agenda.

  • Anjali Mullany

    I see. I'll see if we can swap it off the front of the slideshow. Thanks.