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Media’s Baltimore ‘Teen Purge’ Narrative is Falling Apart

April 30, 2015 in Blogs

By Adam Johnson, FAIR

Turns out the teen social media “purge” may have been more a police and media creation than an actual threat.

Early Monday afternoon, the Baltimore Sun (

As for the evidence of this “purge” spreading on social media? It’s murky at best. After getting vague responses from the Baltimore Sunreporters in question as to the actual, linked evidence that the flier had gone viral, I took to Twitter asking for evidence that evidence that the flier was spread by high school students before theSun tweeted it out.

After a few hours and a lot of searching, all that came back were two tweets (one of which is now deleted)—neither of which were from high schoolers, and both of which were upset by the idea of a “purge,” not promoting it. Even if one assumes that the flier actually did go viral on other social media (which it may well have–it’s more difficult to search Instagram andFacebook), the social media activity we could observe was sharing the flier in disgust—not to promote the “purge” at all.

The sharing of content is not, in itself, an indication of intent or support. (Indeed, if it were, we could assume CNN and other outlets that splash ISIS propaganda on their Twitter timelines are ISIS’s No. 1 fans.) So when theBaltimore Sun breathlessly observes that “the incident stemmed from a flier that circulated widely among city school students via social media about a ‘purge’ to take place at 3 p.m.,” it’s important to know whether the flier was being “circulated widely” by supporters or opponents. This is why, when reporting on social media trends, providing actual social media screengrabs and links is entirely helpful.

It’s unclear, though, whether the Baltimore Sun had any links to the original social media activity that its report centered on. Sun reporter Carrie Wells, who seems to be the first from the paper to tweet the photo after the Sun‘s story went live, told me she heard about the “purge” image because “a friend onFacebook said it was circulating around Instagram.”


“It’s been widely circulating”…“got word of it”…“other reports”: The murkiness and lack of identified primary source strips the story of context and, in doing so, creates a perception …read more


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