In the confusion during last night's shooting at a protest in Dallas, local police officers wrongly identified a suspect, who was exonerated within hours by evidence circulated on TV and social media. The shootings started at around 9PM local time last night during protests over the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. So far, eleven police officers are known to have been shot, and five have died.
Soon after the shootings began, the Dallas Police department tweeted a picture of one Mark Hughes, who is seen wearing a camouflage T-shirt and what appears to be a rifle, the butt of the gun sticking out from the bottom of the picture. "This is one of our suspects," said the tweet. "Please help us find him!" The tweet is still live and has been retweeted nearly 40,000 times (most of the responses are now asking for its removal). The picture was also broadcast on major television networks, nationally and locally.
This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him! pic.twitter.com/Na5T8ZxSz6— Dallas Police Depart (@DallasPD) July 8, 2016
The police department then described Hughes as a suspect in a press briefing broadcast live on Periscope and handed out copies of his photograph. "We wanted to show a person of interest, who witnesses at the scene say was involved in this shooting in some way," said police chief David Brown. "So if anyone knows or recognizes this picture, please, immediately call 911. Do not approach this suspect. We'll bring him to justice."
But almost at the same time as these accusations were being leveled, footage was being shared appearing to exonerate Hughes. In one video, Hughes can be seen standing with a large crowd just after the shots were fired.
In another, Hughes' brother Cory told local TV that Hughes had given in his rifle after the shootings begun. "My brother was marching with us," said Cory Hughes. "And because he is my brother and I understood the severity of the situation, my first instinct was to tell him: 'Give that gun away.'"
When asked why his brother had brought the gun to the protest in the first place, Cory Hughes responded: "The same reason that across the country other people bring their guns. Because it is his right, and he was simply exercising his right." Texas has open carry laws which allow exactly this.
The definition of cool heads prevailing. https://t.co/YRa4cfSYRE— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) July 8, 2016
GUYS PLEASE SPREAD THIS, APPARENTLY THE SUSPECT WAS MISIDENTIFIED pic.twitter.com/2nY7JWWNn4— maia cox (@sebologist) July 8, 2016
Many of those following events online, though, noted that this information had not filtered into mainstream TV reports on the shooting. A subsequent tweet by the Dallas Police Department said: "The person of interest whose picture had been circulated just turned himself in."
Twitter makes TV look so slow even when it's live TV. CNN is building a case against a guy that Twitter has already exonerated.— Roy Pickering (@AuthorofPatches) July 8, 2016
Hughes himself later appeared on TV, with footage of him handing his gun over to a police officer showing up on Twitter (via Facebook Live) not long after.
But the confusion around Hughes' misidentification doesn't support a clear narrative of social media being faster to the facts than broadcast TV. If anything, it shows how the two work together — in a way that is both illuminating and confusing.
Much of the footage shared on Twitter exonerating Hughes — particularly the interview with his brother— was recorded for TV broadcast. But at the same time, some channels were still reportedly "building a case" against him. As with any developing news story, the available information is shared unevenly between different outlets, and with the advent of smartphones and live-streaming apps, there's even more information to be shared — and missed.
As Hughes stated in one of his interviews, he's yet to receive an apology from the police for misidentifying him in the first place. "Now you've had my face on national news, are you going to come out and say that this young man had nothing to do with it?"
The news outlets that put this mans face on the news as a cop killer should PLASTER this picture on the screen. pic.twitter.com/eMGc0qPdmf— LEFT (@LeftSentThis) July 8, 2016