I arrived at my home on H St. in Eureka Saturday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. and soon found myself sucked into Facebookdom. Scrolling down my newsfeed, I was confronted with the following screaming status update:
News Channel 3 A GUNMAN MAY STILL BE ON THE LOOSE IN EUREKA. … SEE WHAT OUR CAMERAS CAUGHT AS EPD HAD WEAPONS DRAWN NEAR G AND 11TH STREET
MORE DETAILS AT 6 PM….
Since "G AND 11TH" is a block from my house, I got up off my couch and glanced out my window, not wanting to be oblivious of any potential bullets whizzing by. I wasn't actually that concerned. Were a manic gunman to reach for my doorknob in hopes of finding an EPD shelter, he'd be thwarted by serial door-locking tendencies. Fortunately, there were no Tombstone-ish scene to be seen.
But as I stuck my brain back into Facebook, I noticed the less-CAPS-heavy comments that followed. A sampling:
Jessica Bones Douez: We seriously have to wait until 6 for details about a gunman on the loose (30 likes!)
Ashley Helena Ann: If people's safety is at risk why r we not being given the details now ??? (20 likes!)
Joslyn Nelson: That's a block away from where I live. YIKES!!
Patty Sue: WTF kind of reporting is THAT? … There is no update….the town is on lockdown!
Chelsea Smith: im a little freaked out can we get some more info
Uh oh. That's not good. The commenters swayed me from my initial feelings of invincibility to instead being a little put out by the -- by consensus -- alarmingly vague post.
At about the same time, the Times-Standard responded to a request on its own Facebook wall for information on all the hubbub. The information it provided at 5:09 p.m. was certainly more thorough (commenter Joslyn from the News Channel 3 post above chimed in with "Thanks for telling us. Had me worried cause I live a block away.").
I generally like it more when people aren't fearing for their lives. Like any good Facebook activist, I Ctrl-C'd that link and Ctrl-V'd it on the News Channel 3 thread. Confession: I added a light, snarky "Sorry if this messes up some Nielsen ratings thing" to the end of it. Guilty.
For whatever reason, someone internally at News Channel 3 recharted its "MORE DETAILS AT 6 PM" course from earlier and posted a more detailed update to its Facebook page at 5:44 p.m. Again, confession time: I commented "Spoiler alert!" 'cuz sometimes I think I'm clever. Then I went on with my weekend time wasting.
The next morning I logged in for my morning Facebook fix and decided to see who else might be adding irreverence to the slight debacle of the previous afternoon. Oh. My comments were gone. And I could post no more.
Bummer. (Also, the initial "ON THE LOOSE" update now appears to have been deleted. You can view it here.)
I'd seen this before. News Channel 3 has had an itchy ban finger in the past (Full disclosure: I've been critical of the station's work in the past, if that matters to anyone.) In fact, an entire Facebook group called Real News for the North Coast sprang up back in January of people "sick of being censored on the News Channel 3 Facebook page."
But I wasn't sure which of News Channel 3's rules for appropriate Facebook discourse I had violated. Previously, News Channel 3 has written in threads on Facebook, "The only responses we delete are those with cursing or threats."
Did that policy change?
I called News Channel 3 News Director Betsy Lambert to inquire. She said she was aware that people had complained about the station's Facebook post, and she had spoken to the reporter responsible. However, she said that she was unaware that comments I'd posted had been deleted or that I'd been banned.
She then called my editor and my publisher. Ms. Lambert told editor Carrie Peyton Dahlberg that a temporary ban applied to everyone on that thread and has now been lifted.