The Internet has trained us to assume that the intimate details of people’s lives must be out there on the Web somewhere, just waiting for us to enter the right Google search term or trawl the right social media platform.
News of the massacre at the Batman screening in Aurora, Colo., Friday morning sent a thousand journalists (and “citizen journalists”) to their browsers, racing to be the first to uncover the telling detail about the suspect.
Would James Holmes turn out, like Tucson gunman Jared Lee Loughner, to have confessed in an online gaming forum to “hav(ing) aggression 24/7?” Might he have penned online political screeds, like Norway shooter Anders Breivik?
Maybe. But if so, they weren’t forthcoming Friday. Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff wrote of spending all morning scouring Facebook, Twitter, even MySpace for clues and coming up with nothing. “I cannot get over what an online ghost Holmes appears to be,” Ulanoff wrote.
At least Ulanoff came up with nothing. Others came up with something worse — misinformation and mistaken identity.
“There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colo., uh, page, ah, on the Colorado Tea Party site, talking about him joining the tea party last year,” ABC News’ Brian Ross excitedly informed millions of “Good Morning America” viewers Friday.
Ross and the news organization apologized soon after, acknowledging that the report was incorrect.
Conservative sites such as Breitbart.com were predictably outraged by the bogus link, seeing in it a case of liberal media bias. But that indignation is perhaps undermined by Breitbart blogger Joel Pollak’s own unconfirmed “exclusive” that Holmes “could be a registered Democrat.”
There are two possible explanations for why the search for the online James Holmes turned up only false leads. One is that this James Holmes truly is an online ghost, a rarity for a 24-year-old these days, though not out of the question.
The other is more mundane: The guy has a common name. Couple that with the fact that he lives in a large city and you have a recipe for a modicum of online anonymity in a data-flooded world.