By Heather Brown


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Philando Castile was shot at about 9 p.m. Wednesday night.

By midnight, #FalconHeightsShooting was trending on Facebook and Twitter.

Five years ago, the widespread reactions would not have happened so quickly.

Less than nine hours after the shooting, many people had already formed strong opinions about what happened.

“The way the public perceives an event is often shaped by the first things that hit social media,” said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and professor of law at the University of St. Thomas. “Those are playing an outsized role in terms of defining the public debate.”

Two major events have changed the intersection of video and police work: Rodney King and the introduction of the smartphone.

With the recent advent of streaming video applications like Facebook Live, the video can now reach people even faster.

Osler says video of police officers can offer narratives that might have been ignored in the past.

“If she would have a different story about what happened, the police might have a different story,” Osler said. “And in the public eye, we’d have those two held up, and people would tend to believe the police. Now what we have is corroborating evidence going one way or the other.”

He considers video a net positive, but says it can offer an incomplete and misleading picture of exactly what happened.

Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight does not know if smartphones and social media have changed officers’ day-to-day work, but he says they are more cognizant that there is a record of their actions.

Knight says their impact could be positive depending on how that record is viewed.

“If someone were to take one video and decide what happened, that can be bad for everyone involved,” Knight said.

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Heather Brown