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NWA EDITORIAL | Tontitown arrest, captured on video and distributed on social media, was just part of the story

Social media often fails on follow-up by NWA Democrat-Gazette | May 26, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.
FILE - This combination of photos shows logos of Twitter, top left; Snapchat, top right; Facebook, bottom left; and TikTok. A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday, April 26, 2023, introduced legislation aiming to prohibit all children under the age of 13 from using social media and would require permission from a guardian for users under 18 to create an account. It is one of several proposals in Congress seeking to make the internet safer for children and teens. (AP Photo, File)

One of the primary benefits of receiving a daily newspaper is its editors' appreciation of the follow-up story.

When one publishes a newspaper 365 days a year, by necessity that will sometimes -- often -- mean the newspaper's initial report on a subject is as complete as time and information permits. Which is to say, not complete at all. News rarely starts and ends on a single day, whether it's a controversy over hosting drag shows or a political clash over the nation's debt ceiling.

Follow-up stories matter. Daily newspaper readers tend to stay up to date as the editors do their best to make sure new information is reported.

Social media doesn't often function that way. It's more about shock and awe, so to speak. It thrives on drama, on outrage, on entertainment value more than responsible news consumption.

Case in point: Back on April 20, police in Tontitown showed up at the home of 45-year-old Jeremy Sherland. At least four officers were at the door. The alleged crime: Sherland reportedly pierced an ear.

That it was his son's ear is a relevant fact. That's how he stood accused of violating Arkansas laws involving the performance of body art on a person younger than 18, third-degree endangering the welfare of a minor, resisting arrest and obstructing government operations.

Video of Sherland's arrest, in the foyer of his home, made the Internet, where all dramatic videos go these days. It was reportedly shot by the aforementioned son, who watched as his father, first, put up mild resistance to the arrest and then was hauled away in handcuffs. At one point, a voice from behind the camera says "I wanted my ears pierced!"

The online video generated all sorts of buzz, poking fun at Arkansas in general and specifically regarding a father's arrest over a pierced ear. It does sound a bit ridiculous, right?

Naturally, the most outrageous part -- the arrest -- is the kind of stuff the Internet and social media feed on. The follow-up, not so much.

What we now know -- and what most of the folks who gawked at that video will likely never know because it isn't chronicled in a dramatic video -- is that the charges against Sherland have been dropped. This newspaper reported the initial concerns arose when a Springdale school resource officer asked Tontitown police to check on the teen's welfare. Why? According to that officer, the boy came to school with a piercing in his left ear and was heard telling others his "drunk" father did it while holding him in a choke hold.

Based on that kind of information, was it worth checking on the boy's welfare? Seems like a simple answer. Whether four officers were required is up for debate. And the resistance the officers faced at the time of the arrest is at least a questionable reaction. It seems cooler heads could have prevailed throughout the situation, but the need to ensure the teen's safety isn't in question.

Now it's May and the prosecutor says after an investigation none of the charges will be pursued. His explanation? "The juvenile whose ear was pierced is telling a very different story now than he was at the time of the incident," Prosecutor Matt Durrett said. "We don't have a victim who's alleging a crime may have occurred. Without a victim, we don't have grounds to proceed."

Readers of the newspaper know, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. That video will probably live on the Internet forever, outraging new viewers long after local authorities did their jobs, worked out the details and brought the matter to an appropriate conclusion.

A good rule of thumb? Next time you're tempted to be outraged by a video on social media, consider doing a little homework to learn more about it. It pays for the consumer to beware in this age of social media-marketed outrage.

Take a breath. Check the details. Read a newspaper. And it won't hurt a bit if you resist the urge to click "share" before knowing the details.

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Whats the point?

Social media is titillating and sensational, but it seriously lacks any follow-up. Beware.


Print Headline: Not-so-candid camera


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