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Shannon Casas: Read responsibly. That means stop judging on Facebook
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

Publishing an article to Facebook that details someone’s arrest is one of my least favorite things to do.

Part of the duty of a newspaper is to report on crime. Tax dollars go toward fighting the drug trade, investigating burglaries and seeking justice in the courts for those accused of unspeakable things.  We all have a vested interest in obtaining accurate information about how crime affects our community.

What the newspaper doesn’t do is make judgments about those cases.

The newspaper’s job is to disseminate information. In 2019, social media is a primary avenue for that. Even if the newspaper isn’t sharing the article, it still gets circulated there.

So, I publish information to Facebook and hold my breath.

Sometimes doing so helps us tell a more complete story as those involved share pieces of what happened. Sometimes it helps quell rumors.

But judgment often comes swiftly on the internet — when the wheels of justice have barely started turning.

Charges against a person are filed, an arrest is made, a mugshot is taken and initial incident report filed.

A news article at this point often states just that: law enforcement has officially accused someone of said crime.

That news article does not say that someone has committed the crime.

When it’s your loved one accused of something, that reality may not feel like it means much. The face of your loved one is out there with that headline. I get it. I’ve been there, too, and it doesn’t feel good. It feels like everyone in the world knows.

The peanut gallery on Facebook doesn’t care that not a single court hearing has been held. They don’t know the good things about that person or the factors that led to the situation, and certainly don’t seem to have any desire to see that person get help rather than punishment.

Instead, they’re usually casting judgment based on a single headline, and often that judgment includes physical violence well beyond what the law allows.

Perhaps these commenters actually took the time to read the article, but even then they’re only getting a sliver of the story.

A journalist’s job is to inform the public, but journalists can only report the information they can access. This early in the process, an attorney for the accused is often not listed in public records, and even when one is appointed, they may not want to talk to the media.

Those involved in the crime, whether suspect, victim or witness, often cannot be reached or when they are reached they don’t want to talk.

That can leave very few sides of the story actually being reported until the case moves forward in the court system.

When someone commits a crime, they deserve justice, which is often served in the form of a long prison sentence. But sometimes justice is served with charges being dropped or reduced. And acquittals or convictions are only given after hours upon hours are put into seeking the truth and presenting it in court. A jury listens to day after day of testimony, and it’s certainly not as exciting as it sometimes appears on TV.

A good journalist works to follow a case from the initial charges through the court system to relay the information about the outcome of a case.

But leaving judgment to the judge and jury is a measured response. It’s not as cathartic as shredding apart a stranger in the comment section on Facebook.

What you do with information the newspaper provides is up to you. Read it responsibly and draw your own conclusions, but leave room for the sides of the story that haven’t been told yet and may never be told publicly.

This column is publishing on Easter Sunday. It probably hasn’t felt like an Easter column to this point. But isn’t it? Judgment was cast on Friday. The crowds cried that he was guilty.

Thank goodness Easter isn’t a story of judgment. It’s a story of redemption.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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