Accuracy in Media

Context in news reporting and journalism matter, but it appears BuzzFeed is fine with reporting the news without giving historical background or context. Syracuse University was the focus of two weeks of race-related fears on its college campus, where a series of events rattled students and faculty. Incidents ranged from graffiti with racist language and alleged verbal harassment, and the allegation that a white supremacist manifesto was circulated on people’s phones without their consent. The latter is known as AirDrop, where an Apple iPhone user could “drop” a document or image to another iPhone user if they are in close physical proximity or location and leave their device open to the AirDrop system.

However, law enforcement and Syracuse University cannot verify the allegation about a white supremacist manifesto being relayed to users through AirDrop. BuzzFeed reported that university officials said, “The rumored AirDrop of a racist manifesto to student devices at Bird Library remains under investigation by the Department of Public Safety, Syracuse Police and the FBI.” The university statement continued, “So far, no one has been able to produce a device that received that document despite pleas from investigators to come forward to help find those responsible. At this time, the alleged AirDrop remains an unsubstantiated rumor that spread rapidly from Monday night into Tuesday morning.”

In other words, the rumored AirDrop allegation is nothing more than conjecture at this point and no one has come forward with the incriminating document or evidence, despite the FBI’s involvement in the investigation.

But BuzzFeed quoted a single student as a reputable source about the AirDrop allegation to counter the university’s statement. The quoted student believed the AirDrop allegation was true, despite the fact that he did not receive the document through AirDrop. He told BuzzFeed that he “literally pulled up to the Bird Library maybe a minute after people said the manifesto was AirDropped and people were terrified.”

BuzzFeed reported about the AirDrop controversy, but it did not provide context about other on-campus hoaxes or false allegations across the United States. Some examples of hoaxes and false allegations are as follows:

  • Bowling Green State University student claimed Trump supporters threw rocks at her, but police said she made up the story,
  • University of Minnesota student posted on social media that police detained her after she fought a racist man, while police said they did not have contact with her,
  • A black student activist made a racist threat to herself at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and claimed it was someone else who wrote the threat,
  • Five black students found racial slurs written on their doors at the Air Force Academy Preparatory Academy and the perpetrator was found to be one of the students,
  • Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland found a black student was responsible for writing an anti-black racist statement in a dorm bathroom.

Those are a few of the dozens of on-campus hoaxes that have popped up on college campuses across the United States over the past several years, but BuzzFeed did not mention these hoaxes in their article on the AirDrop allegation. Without providing context, BuzzFeed created a sense of unrest and angst that racism is alive and well as colleges and universities when these past events suggest that college students seek headlines and perpetuate these hoaxes for sympathy and fame.

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