Information abhors a vacuum. When people aren't given information they have only their fears to guide them. This week, during the chaos surrounding the shootings at Virginia Tech, police had nothing to say and both press and public responded, naturally, by looking for other information to fill the ensuing vacuum.
Says Wired's Kevin Poulson:
In the absence of any official information from police on the identity of the Virginia Tech killer, Internet sleuths claiming to be in-the-know have been calling attention -- on message boards and online aggregators like Digg -- to the LiveJournal blog of a particular 23-year-old gun nut in Virginia.
I found his phone number in an online resume and called it. A guy who identified himself as "David," and wouldn't give a last name, said he was handling media inquiries for the man. "He has given me liberty to confirm that he is not the shooter, given that he is alive," said David.
To be fair, both the police and the University gave fairly constant attention to the press - but there was just nothing to say other than what they knew.
However, the spread of the young gun guy's web site was entirely through Social Media. This is an excellent illustration of not only how information from Social Media is fallible, but also how people - when looking for something to focus on - will focus on what is socially convenient and wait for an explanation later.
Simply because there's a crowd doesn't mean there is wisdom.
Fortunately for young gun guy, the killer was himself killed and that pretty much seals his innocence.
Blogged at Gray Hill Harbor Offices in Seattle using Windows Live Writer