Throats Slashed! Sold Into Human Trafficking!

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Oh my God. Did you hear? Homeless people are getting their throats slashed. Women are being grabbed in parking garages and sold into human sex trafficking. Children are being grabbed up off the streets. The media isn’t telling you about these things and the police are hiding these terrible stories from you.

More and more this is the sort of thing I see on my social media feeds and it’s almost always bullshit. The difficulty here is that all it takes is one person making something up. Then some well-meaning people share it thinking they’re helping, usually with a ‘Be careful out there’ warning to their fellow social media users.

I’ve been covering Tacoma homicides for over a decade now. Over the years I’ve received countless ‘tips’ about all sorts of horrific and gruesome murders that never happened. I will do my due diligence and contact the police department, the Medical Examiner’s office, and local reporters to see if there is any meat to the rumors, but there rarely is.

It’s gotten to the point where I can spot a lie before I research it. Here are some things to watch out for.

Lack of Detail: Exactly where did this happen? Who was involved? What did they look like? What time was it when it happened? How many perpetrators were there?

Sensationalism: If the story sounds outrageous and there isn’t any media coverage whatsoever of the story, then it’s likely false because the media LOVES outrageous stories. Last week I saw a story about a guy who stole an airplane from Sea-Tac. When it first appeared on social media I was skeptical, but within minutes the story was picked up by mainstream news because a story like that when true is worth covering.

Personal Anecdote (and nothing else): Personal accounts of terrible things are always compelling, but they’re also among the least verifiable forms of evidence. That’s not to say that everyone who tells you something terrible that happened to them is lying. But if there is no other evidence to back up their story, it’s healthy to be at least initially skeptical.

Secondhand Information: Occasionally I’ll get emails from people who will tell me that my depiction of a homicide is inaccurate because they know a guy who was there and… But of course if I ask to talk to that guy, they can’t produce him.

Now it should be noted that in all of these cases it’s possible that the story you’re being told is actually true. Sometimes things happen quickly and it’s hard to give details as to what happened. Sometimes the true story is so sensational it sounds false. Sometimes things happen to you and you have no evidence that they did. Sometimes you hear a story from someone and never talk to them again. This is why it’s good not to just assume that they’re lying to you.

Instead what I suggest is to believe the story until you find reason not to, but not to share the story until you have some sort of corroboration. Multiple sources are good. Confirmation from authorities or experts is better. Physical evidence is even better.

Ask questions. If someone says something happened and they talked to the police, ask for the incident report number. If someone tells you something incredible happened, ask for the source of that information.

Do your own research. If someone has supposedly been killed, ask the Medical Examiner’s office. Contact the police department’s spokesperson. Check various media websites.

Be respectfully skeptical. There’s no reason to call someone a liar until you have evidence that they are one. The truth is occasionally hard to prove. My rule is fairly simple when it comes to sharing information: Trust, but verify. If it can’t be verified, depending on the source I might still believe it, but I’m not going to share it.

– Jack

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When Your Family Tree Includes Bigotry

Up until recently I had two Facebook profiles. One was my ‘public’ page. (You can find it here at http://facebook.com/jackcameron.) The other was my ‘personal’ page. Much of my family does not share my political or religious views and they do not much like it when I share what I think about these topics but I try to do the family thing and keep in touch. So I made a page where I can update them on family stuff without offending their delicate sensibilities.

A few weeks ago I chose to take down my personal Facebook page. This was the result of accepting something fundamental about much of my extended family and I feel like I should share it.

My grandfather on my mother’s side once trained his black lab dog to bark at black people. Growing up I heard relatives use racial slurs in conversation without any discomfort. I didn’t have a black friend until high school. Neither my brother nor I have ever had a long-term romantic relationship with someone who was another race.  I come from a white family that has been and in some cases still is entirely comfortable with racism.

This is not to say that we are all racists. There are those of us who recognize the mistakes of past generations and have moved past the bigotry that was commonplace in society in the previous century. I have family members who I love very much who have managed to become more open to other races, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, and lifestyles. I have other family members I love who are unable to move on and remain bigoted. They likely will remain bigoted the rest of their lives.

So when I called my brother out on my personal page for his endorsement of a bigoted candidate, I was met with a fair amount of hostility from some family members because I had previously said I would not talk about politics. It struck me that they were more upset about this than they were about my brother spouting his support for a racist Presidential Candidate. They were more comfortable with racism than they were with conflict.

From one perspective, they were right. I said I would not talk politics and religion and I did. It was then that I realized as a vocal liberal Democrat and atheist my social media page should reflect those values. My personal page was not really personal at all. It was a placeholder to placate people I’m related to by blood but who have very little in common with me. If they weren’t related to me, they wouldn’t be my friends. In other words, my personal page was essentially a page to make the bigoted members of my family comfortable with my online presence. As soon as I realized that was what I was doing, I took the page down.

It’s okay though. The family members I know and love I keep in touch with online and offline. The others are just people I’m related to. I’m under no obligation to make them comfortable. This is especially true for the bigots. I am me. I won’t pretend to be somebody else. If that offends anyone, I don’t much care.

– Jack Cameron