Americans mourn Virginia shooting victims as social networks scrub gunman’s profiles

abstract art of the twitter bird

‘Highlight the victims not the suspect.’

On Wednesday morning, a gunman opened fire on two reporters from local news station WDBJ7 in Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia. Now, the national mourning and reflection on the tragedy begins.

Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were both killed. Smith Mountain Lake Regional Camber of Commerce Executive Director Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed at the time of the shooting, was also shot, but is currently in stable condition at a nearby hospital.

Suspected shooter Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, a former employee of WDBJ7 who went by Bryce Williams on air, shot himself after a confrontation with police. 

Update 1:21pm CT, Aug. 26: Flanagan has died from self-inflicted injuries, according to local authorities, Vice News reports.

While the manhunt for Flanagan was ongoing, social media accounts using the name Bryce Williams published video of the shooting to Facebook and tweeting about the incident. As the media rushed to cover the alleged killer’s online trail, the social networks that played host to the video rapidly tried to erase it.

Within hours of the shooting, the video was removed from Facebook, along with Flangan’s entire profile. His Twitter and LinkedIn accounts were similarly taken down.

In their place, Twitter users have adopted a trio of hashtags honoring the lives of the victims. The hashtags #RIPAlisonParker, #RIPAdamWard, and #RIPAlisonAndAdam have quickly served as rallying points for people trying to express regret and come to grips with the tragedy.

Twitter users celebrated the lives and accomplishments of the victims.

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A discussion around the news outlets’ decision to publish video of the shooting taken by the suspect also coalesced around the hashtags. 

Most of tweets touching the subject pushed for the media to refrain from posting the video, both for its gruesome nature and that is gives the alleged shooter precisely what he presumably wanted—attention—instead of putting the focus on the victims.

As occurs when any mass shooting breaks into the national consciousness, many people used the hashtags to call for increased gun control.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Aaron Sankin

Aaron Sankin

Aaron Sankin is a former Senior Staff Writer at the Daily Dot who covered the intersection of politics, technology, online privacy, Twitter bots, and the role of dank memes in popular culture. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He joined the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016.