Our view: Take scanner chatter with extra salt

Monday in Bennington began with a bit of excitement. An active shooter was reported at the State Office Complex, prompting police to place the facility under lockdown. No one was allowed in or out while Bennington Police searched the area.

As it turns out, there was no shooter. Police said loose items in the back of a state employee's car somehow got jostled around hard enough to break a window. Car glass, when it breaks, can sound like a gun going off, so the employee thought they were being shot at. Given the 2015 murder of state social worker Lara Sobel, who was shot coming out of her workplace by a woman upset over a child custody decision, we can understand their alarm.

What fascinated us about the whole thing was the reaction our local police scanner communities had to the incident.

One post, "Possible lockdown in town? Anybody hear anything?" triggered about 150 responses. Even after Bennington Police used its Facebook page to sound the all clear, people were speculating.

Most people know that scanners are devices anyone can buy that pick up radio communications from police, firefighters, and ambulance services. It's a rather odd form of entertainment that has seen something of a resurgence in popularity now that smartphones can access online scanner feeds.

What some may not be aware of are the various Facebook communities that have sprung up around the scanners. People post to Facebook what they hear broadcast over the emergency channels; that or they see lights and hear sirens and ask the scanner community what's going on. Different Facebook groups have different rules. Some don't allow names, others don't allow the posting of anything not specifically heard over the airwaves. Some pages have little in the way of rules.

Bennington Police said there were people posting to Facebook false and misleading information about the incident. One poster put up a video showing police in full body armor attempting to break through a door. The video had nothing to do with the local situation and it's not clear why the poster shared it. Police said the bad information got people far more riled up than they needed to be.

There's nothing inherently wrong with posting what you hear on the scanner to Facebook, (We do it, carefully) but folks should keep in mind that the picture painted by scanner chatter is often quite different from what's really going on. That's not to say you should ignore everything you see on Facebook. News of a possible shooting is something to take seriously, and Facebookers certainly had the gist of what was going on, but as we've seen, it's often the details that matter.


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