Racism trending

It was all too painfully familiar, making it that much more easy to believe. P.K. Subban, a  black player on the hated Montreal Canadiens team playing in a near-lily white league, was the target of racist tweets after scoring the winning goal in Game 1 of the playoff series against the Boston Bruins earlier this month.

The n-word was used and those who monitor Twitter blasted out the offending tweets and told the world the n-word and Subban were “trending” in Boston. With the city’s stain of racism from decades gone by, it was easy pickings for the instant world of social media, followed by the piggybacking of mainstream outlets eager to put a spotlight on the cauldron of hate they know as Boston.

The problem was, the words and the tweets were not trending and the Boston Globe‘s Fluto Shinzawa has a fascinating story and chart about how the issue developed and took on a life of its own. The story is a tale not so much of sports or even the city’s history but how the age of digital communication can overwhelm reality with perception accepted as fact and then move on without any sort of course correction.

It seems that there were only a handful of Twitter comments with the invective aimed at Subban and at the time several prominent Twitter users and media outlets reported the false trend, the vast majority of tweets using the n-word were so-called “denunciation tweets” or “shaming tweets,” used to call out the twits on Twitter.

“According to Social Sphere, a Cambridge company that researches and analyzes Internet data, there were eight tweets on May 1 containing the n-word and Subban’s name that could be considered racist,” Shinzawa writes. “In response, there were 347 tweets, also featuring both words, that could be classified as condemnatory.”

The tale of the tweets is a reflection of how people are viewing social media, both as an avenue to communicate or to get their information. The anonymity of the World Wide Web emboldens many people to embellish or even make fraudulent statements that rarely get corrected and get resurrected down the line to be presented once again as fact.

Even truly fake news gets passed off as the real deal. Earlier this week, the Spring Hill Courier ran a story about an Arby‘s franchisee who manipulated the system and won approval for a whites-only franchise in Spring Hill, Florida. The story went viral on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and all other forms of instant, albeit abbreviated, communication. Problem was, the story wasn’t real. In fact, the Spring Hill Courier isn’t real, simply a satirical site akin to The Onion. They ran a follow-up story that stated the “franchisee” did a genealogy search and discovered he had African-American ancestry, with the headline a spoof on those annoying Upworthy teases that clog your social media feeds. (“A racist planned to open a whites-only Arby’s and then researched his heritage on Ancestry.com. What happened next will make you reconsider your worldview.”)

Even well-meaning users get tripped up in that vortex between real and unreal. Over Memorial Day, memes flew around Facebook and Twitter urging people to remember the real meaning of the holiday. But many of the pictures, such as the woman laying prone before a headstone supposedly of her late soldier husband, are staged, stock photos.

Hiawatha Bray , also in today’s Globe, spotlights the thrill of anonymous apps such as Whisper and Secret that allow users to post intimate details they may not otherwise utter in public. But the potential for abuse, like other social media, is definitely there. Bray points out the popular Yik Yak app that allows users to share messages anonymously within 1.5 miles of each other became a forum for teens to hurl insults and abuse at others, a form of cyberbullying that too often ends in tragedy.

While the Subban tweets cost no one a life, the damage was certainly felt. Shinzawa’s piece is a lesson beyond sports, or even race. Unfortunately, social media attention has already moved on, though it surely will return the next time a single knucklehead takes to the Internet to spread ignorance and hate. And once again, this episode will be revived, likely without Shinzawa’s context included. So, we have to ask, in this age of instant communication, where does Boston go to get its reputation back?

–JACK SULLIVAN  

BEACON HILL

A report concludes that the state’s Department of Children and Families was not responsible for the death of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, but adds that the agency’s policies are woefully out of date. Prosecutors, meanwhile, are seeking access to the mental health assessment of Elsa Oliver, who is being held on assault, child-endangerment, and kidnapping charges related to her son, the Sun reports.

The Massachusetts House votes 130-19 in favor of a $1.1  billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center financed with existing hotel room occupancy taxes, the Associated Press reports.

In the final budget in her last year as Senate president, Sen. Therese Murray of Plymouth is looking out for her district with $2 million earmarked for the restoration of the Mayflower II in advance of the town’s 400th anniversary, as well as $2.75 million to upgrade Town Wharf, and money to restore weekend commuter rail service on the Old Colony rail line.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Quincy City Council voted to give Mayor Thomas Koch a 23 percent raise, down from the 30 percent hike the mayor had sought.

Former Lawrence mayor (and current candidate for state rep) William Lantigua wins approval for a $17,338 annual pension, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Empty Boston churches are being turned into condos at a good clip.

Somerville closes in on tight new pay-to-play restrictions.

CASINOS

The Standard Times reports that Foxwoods has entered into “serious negotiations” with New Bedford to build a casino in the Whaling City because they’ve been unable to find a suitable site in Fall River, But Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan says he spoke with Foxwoods officials and insists “they’re not looking anywhere.”

Attorney General Martha Coakley indicts a former worker at Plainridge Racecourse for stealing $61,000 out of the track’s money room. The alleged theft occurred at a time when the track’s former top manager was under fire for taking $1.4 million from the room, CommonWealth reports. The harness racing track’s current owner, Penn National, says in a statement that it reported the theft to state gaming regulators.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls for a crackdown on gun sales, including limiting buyers to one handgun purchase a month, Time reports. Gov. Deval Patrick tried and failed to do the same.

Maryland’s tax treatment of out-of-state income is being challenged before the US Supreme Court, Governing reports.

Meet Tim Geithner, humblebragger.

ELECTIONS

The New Jersey treasurer’s office will look into the awarding of a $15 million pension contract awarded to Cambridge-based General Catalyst amid allegations that the firm and one of its partners, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, violated “pay-to-play” rules.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massachusetts commercial fisherman will get $14.5 million in disaster relief, part of a $75 million relief package from the federal government that is going to the distressed fishing industry around the country.

Google releases an analysis of its workforce that shows an immense diversity challenge for the tech sector, the New York Times reports.

Apple buys Beats for $3 billion, the New York Times reports.

EDUCATION

UMass Lowell chancellor Marty Meehan, in a Globe op-ed, lays out the case for revamping the nonsensical system of charging low tuition at schools in the UMass system while loading the lion’s share of the cost of attending in fees.

An analysis by the Patriot Ledger finds that teachers at more than half the South Shore school districts earn more than the statewide average salary of $72,176 with Scituate topping the region.

HEALTH CARE

Supporters and critics speak out at a public hearing on the proposed takeover by Partners HealthCare of Hallmark Health System. Gene Lindsey, the former chief at Atrius Health, is one of those condemning the deal between Attorney General Martha Coakley and Partners allowing the Hallmark and South Shore Hospital acquisitions to go through.

The Globe reports a state study that began 14 years ago finds children who live near airports are four times more likely to have asthma or asthmatic symptoms than those who live further away while adults who have lived near Logan for three years or more have pollution-related health issues twice as often as those who don’t inhale jet fumes.

The US teen birthrate reaches a record low.

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA has fired a bus driver in connection with an accident earlier this month in Newton in which she allegedly had a cellphone in her hand, a violation of T policy.  

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The EPA announced more than $17 million in grants to clean up brownfield sites around New England, including nearly $1 million for two sites in Taunton.

National Grid agrees to extensive repaving work and other measures to win Salem approval for a major transmission project, the Salem News reports.

The MetroWest Daily News wants to preserve the ban on Sunday hunting to minimize potentially fatal encounters between hunters and people out for a walk in the woods–who might get mistaken for a deer or other animal.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

With gun manufacturers are leaving the Northeast for the friendly climes of the South, pro-gun control stalwarts like Gov. Patrick have offered tax incentives to companies like Springfield’s Smith and Wesson.

Former FBI agent John Connolly‘s murder conviction in connection with the Whitey Bulger case was overturned by a Florida appeals court yesterday. Kevin Cullen laments the latest twist in the sordid saga, saying the gist of yesterday’s ruling is that Connolly’s “second-degree murder conviction was thrown out, not because he was innocent, but because he didn’t get caught soon enough.” WBUR’s David Boeri profiles Connolly here; Boeri had previously argued, in a piece for Boston magazine, that Connolly was being made to answer for all the crimes of a corrupt FBI office. Howie Carr suggests trying Connolly in Boston in connection with the 1982 murders of Michael Donahue and Brian Halloran. Michael Wheeler lost his father to a Bulger hit that precipitated the Florida case Connolly is embroiled in; Wheeler wants to know why Connolly isn’t being brought up on racketeering charges, the way Bulger was last summer.

MEDIA

The Nieman Journalism Lab examines the trend lines between audience attention and advertising dollars.