‘Blindly trusting is the bigger problem’

Social media contributes to spread of false allegations, rumors about homicide of four UI students

Idaho+community+leaves+flowers+and+gifts+to+remember+the+4+students+murdered+at+the+University+of+Idaho%2C+Nov.16.+

MIKAYLA FINNERTY

Idaho community leaves flowers and gifts to remember the 4 students murdered at the University of Idaho, Nov.16.

MIKAYLA FINNERTY, Managing editor

Much of the information has yet to be disclosed from the Moscow Police Department about the homicide investigation involving four University of Idaho students, causing students to take to social media to find answers for themselves. 

Operations Capt. Roger Lanier addressed some misinformation and speculation during a press conference Sunday. He said the two surviving roommates, the man seen at Grub Truck and the private party who provided Goncalves and Mogen with a ride home are not suspects in the case. 

However, many spectators and students are using social media to spread rumors and misinformation, said Caroline Ruoff, multimedia journalism and public relations double major.

“When everything was fresh with the Idaho stuff lots of people on Yik Yak were saying it was drug related or a murder suicide,” said Ruoff.

Yik Yak, an anonymous social media platform, connects people within a certain mile radius. The app allows users to post essentially anything, ranging from profanity to commentary. 

College students specifically enjoy the app due to its free nature and the ability to complain about finals, find house parties and even news about what is happening on campus, according to NBC news.

While most of the information spread on the app is not constructive to facts relating to the case, students seem to be upset about the misinformation being spread on social media, according to Yik Yak posts. 

“I hate that the true crime freaks are getting a hold of the case :/ so many outside of the state are starting to spread misinformation,” said a user post on Nov. 17. 

In response someone wrote, “It’s sad seeing people blame the two roommates … must be so traumatic for them.”

People often spread rumors without realizing they are false, Porismita Borah, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication associate professor who researches misinformation, wrote in an email.

“Often thinking through the information really helps to understand that what they just read or saw or heard may not be true. It’s pretty easy to fall for misinformation and disinformation, but due diligence can help us,” Borah wrote.

Some have taken to the Yik Yak app to express safety concerns. One commented, “I came to a small college town thinking I would feel safer than in a large college, apparently I was wrong.” 

In one response, someone suggests, “Carry pepper spray if u can. Anything helps.” 

Gary Jenkins, WSU Police Department interim chief, said people should not travel alone or in low-populated and low-lighted areas, according to a Daily Evergreen article

As for Tik Tok, a simple search of “Idaho students” produces thousands of videos. One post has been shared 12.7k times from NBC Nightly News.

“I’ve seen a bunch of wanna be crime Tik Tokers post about the homicide,” Ruoff said.

Although the coverage by news is mostly informative with new facts being released, a suggested search of “Idaho students bloody house,” emphasizes the sensationalism being spread on the app regarding the case. 

Along with Tik Tok and Yik Yak, Ruoff follows news organizations on social media as well, she said. 

“I also follow a few news people on Twitter who are covering this and they tweeted something about the roommates, and then deleted it because it was wrong,” Ruoff said, “ Then they Tweeted about wanting to be as transparent and how it was important for them to issue a correction so as to not spread misinformation.” 

With many things unknown about the homicide, speculating and spreading possible rumors seems to be the only thing students can do, but Borah says to focus on reliable news. 

“If you follow the trusted news sources and multiple sources, often it is possible to get accurate information. So trusting should not be a problem but blindly trusting is the bigger problem,” Borah wrote, “You can trust the information if you are careful about where the news is coming from.”