(TFC) – Yesterday, millions of people across the globe stared in horror at the image of the Broward County school shooter. They were able to infer from the image the shooter was a leftist, and probably a “communist”. Nikolas Cruz was the killer leftist the right wing always dreamed about and word spread like wildfire on social media. The problem is the photo isn’t Nikolas Cruz, it’s Marcel Fontaine. Marcel lives on the other side of the country and had nothing to do with the shooting.
The Fifth Column reached out to Marcel. When asked if the photo was him, he responded with “Yes it is!”
We asked if they had any statement regarding the rampant libel against him. Taking it in stride, they said:
“Just one thing that I am grateful for all the support and I am seeing a lot of people who are standing with me! Just don’t buy into the right winged propaganda and just do your research first otherwise you aren’t really walking the walk against fake news!”
The Fifth Column asked its readers via Facebook to provide screenshots of news outlets or pages sharing the incorrect image. A flood of images arrived via the comments section and messenger.
What’s even more disturbing than the hundreds of thousands of shares of false information claiming an innocent man murdered children is the fact that most of the outlets and pages were informed of their error and issued no retraction. This makes this particular act libelous in nature. These pages care more about pushing a narrative and obtaining clicks than they do about accuracy or ethics.
While The Fifth Column was tracking the spread of false information and futilely attempting to fight it, another site in our network, The Pontiac Tribune, was tracking the origin of the image. It appears to have originated from an internet message board known for trolling news agencies, certainly not a reliable primary source.
From a fact-checking standpoint, there was no reason for this to occur. There was no evidence that would lead any reasonable person to believe the image of Marcel was an image of the shooter.
The same situation occurred after a recent shooting in Texas, involving many of the same offenders. This displays a wanton disregard for any journalistic ethics. In fact, a video produced in the aftermath of the Texas shooting could be used to describe this instance by simply substituting a few words. One viewer appeared to believe the video was referencing the Florida shooting and commented “correcting” our error.
This isn’t a game. These outlets are playing with people’s lives. If they can’t be counted on to confirm the authenticity of an image they presented as a photo of a mass murderer, how can they possibly be trusted to provide any accurate information at all? This is journalism 101. The Fifth Column recently put out a short video explaining how to spot bad news outlets. It is available here.
For the sake of the future of independent media, I am personally disregarding a longstanding rule regarding legal proceedings. If the victim chooses to pursue a lawsuit against the perpetrators, I will testify on their behalf and state for the record: No journalist who performed even a minimum amount of due diligence or who was acting in good faith could have presented this image as an image of the shooter. The failure to remove the image and issue a retraction after being informed of the inaccuracy is appalling. As journalists, we constantly advocate for politicians to clean out their own house or “drain the swamp”. It’s time to do that with independent media.
A list of sites, pages, groups, and people who shared the lie, complete with screenshots, can be found here. The list of notable offenders, of course, includes Infowars. Many of the outlets have subsequently deleted their posts, but have issued no correction, retraction, or admission of their mistake. We hope discerning readers will take appropriate action to cut inaccurate sources out of their news diet.