News orgs circulate Facebook profile, photos of man who wasn't the shooter

Reporters and producers around the country, frantically searching for information online about the alleged school shooter, found what seemed like a match. Ryan Lanza, 24, was believed responsible for the deaths of 27 people in Newtown, Conn., at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The Facebook profile showed a Ryan Lanza from Newtown, Conn., who currently lives in Hoboken, N.J. -- a male who looks like he's in his 20s. The photo fit the description, so countless news orgs ran with it in stories and tweets.

Problem is, it was the wrong guy.

Hours later, there were reports that Adam Lanza, 20, was the shooter, not his brother Ryan. The AP's latest report explains that "earlier, a law enforcement official mistakenly transposed the brothers' first names." reported that "former Jersey Journal staff writer Brett Wilshe said he has spoken with Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, who told Wilshe the shooter may have had his identification."

Some of Ryan Lanza's Facebook friends started pointing out that he was posting messages after the shooter had already died; those messages specifically denied involvement in the shooting.

But by then, Lanza's photo had been broadcast on the air, retweeted thousands of times and published online.

BuzzFeed went BIG with its supposed find of "the first possible photo" of the shooter:

Gawker published the photo under the headline "Is this Ryan Lanza, the Connecticut school shooter?"

Gawker deleted that post after realizing its mistake, then replaced it with this:

Mediaite ran many photos, similarly under a question-mark-couched headline.

Then it replaced it with this:

And Fox News ran with it too.

Slate tweeted it as well and Huffington Post used the Facebook photo.

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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