Fact or Fiction: 5 Myths and Memes About #Ferguson

As the Ferguson story continues to unfold, misinformation about the events leading up to the protests grows by leaps and bounds. Here's a look at the top five debates circulating online.


  1. Without social media, most of the world would not know what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting of Mike Brown (an unarmed black teenager) by Darren Wilson (a white police officer), occurred against a backdrop of similar deaths of unarmed young African Americans around the country.  However, the slow response by local law enforcement to community requests for answers, alongside the powder keg of race relations in Ferguson, led led to terrifying nights as a highly-equipped police force faced off against mostly peaceful protesters with their hands up, or toting cardboard signs.

    Fascinated, the nation continues to watch breaking developments on social media, through hashtags like #Ferguson and following along with LiveStreams, Vines and Facebook posts.  However, in the crush of commentary, memes are turning into myths which are being interpreted as facts.  So how, then, do people sifting through social media feeds uncover the truth?

    Politifact fact checked Ferguson by looking at the words of officials who commented on the situation. The Stream takes a look at the most popular myths gaining traction on social, and seeing if they align with reality.
  2. Who was Michael Brown?

  3. Brown was eighteen-years-old and a college bound high school senior before he became the subject of national debate.  Family and community members are remembering his legacy in public memorials and commentary. But under the growing scrutiny, the Ferguson Police Department released a video alleging Brown could have been a suspect in a strong arm robbery of a convenience store.
  4. It is unclear if the person in the surveillance video is actually Michael Brown. Regardless of the footage, Chief of Police Thomas Jackson confirmed in a press conference that Wilson "had no knowledge of Brown as a suspect" at the time of the altercation, according to Newsweek.

    Still, some social media users released photos of people they believed to be Michael Brown engaged in questionable behavior:
  5. Others quickly responded with a meme to clarify the misinformation.
  6. As more details about Brown's life emerge, the core message on social by supporters and other interested parties is to try to focus on the facts.
  7. What really happened to Michael Brown?

  8. Social media chatter normally reflects what happens in high profile cases like this - a public trial of opinion before the actual trial in a court of law, with onlookers speculating on the guilt or innocence of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. Most of the information available is from eyewitness testimony, the officer's unreleased report, and the medical examiner's report.

    The Officer's Unreleased Report

    Over on The Scrutineer blog, Gregg Levine points out the largest holes in the narrative:

    Missing from the 19 pages of incident reports was any paperwork on Wilson’s shooting of Brown — the information that had actually been sought by Brown family lawyers and journalists all week. Still, Chief Jackson tried to conflate the events, first with his timing, but also by insisting that the release of the surveillance video came because the press had asked for it. (My search for references to convenience store or cigar store video surveillance of Brown dating from before Friday morning has come up empty. If there are published requests out there, please send them our way. Jackson declined Friday to give specifics about the requests he received.)

    When pressed, however, Jackson said that Officer Wilson was not aware of the robbery reports when he stopped Brown, and that the confrontation between Wilson and Brown occurred because Brown and a friend were obstructing traffic by walking in the middle of the street.

    According to the Chief of Police of St. Louis County, Jon Belmar, the outline of events is as follows:

    "He alleged that Brown rushed at the officer when the officer was still in his police cat and that Brown struggled to get the officer's gun away from him. Belmar said at least one shot was fired inside the vehicle.

    "The officer was able to exit the vehicle where the fatal shooting occurred in the street, approximately 35 feet from where the officer's vehicle was parked," a St. Louis County police statement read. "There were several shell casings found at the scene. All of the shell casings match to one weapon, and that is the officer's weapon."

    The police department confirmed statements from the family saying that Brown was unarmed.

    However, eyewitnesses dispute this version of events, noting Brown appeared to be running away and had turned around to show compliance with the officer's orders. 

  9. Eyewitness Testimony

  10. Eyewitnesses have come forward in the wake of the shooting to represent a counter-narrative to the one presented by the Ferguson Police Department.
  11. Michael Brown's Friend Describes Shooting Dorian Johnson Eyewitness (FULL)
  12. Dorian Johnson, the friend with Brown at the time of the shooting, describes a verbal exchange that became a tussle between Brown and Wilson. According to Johnson's interviews, Wilson didn't say anything until he said "I'll shoot you" or "I'm going to shoot." Other eyewitnesses, like Tiffany Mitchell and Piaget Crenshaw, can describe the altercation but did not mention a verbal exchange.  

     In response to the eyewitness reports, people began creating online memorials around Michael Brown's last words like this one:
  13. While there were several eyewitnesses, most could not clearly hear Brown's last words.  More disturbing, there does not appear to be an official record of what happened.  While the Ferguson police department has access to millions of dollars in military grade equipment, one item that was not available is a body camera that could have recorded the interaction between Wilson and Brown. People are now petitioning for these cameras to become standard issue to police departments but it is coming down to conflicting narratives.  While the eyewitnesses are fairly clear on what they saw, what they heard is another story. 
  14. The Medical Examiner

    Of the autopsies conducted on Michael Brown, the most resonant image is how many times bullets entered Brown's body and the location of those bullets. The New York Times was the first to release the drawings of the autopsy as presented in court.