We live in scary times. Few would dispute this. Then again, our nation was founded by people who survived a terrifying ocean voyage in wooden ships, encountered hostile opposition as they tried to tame what would become the United States and overcame diseases and unbelieveable hardships that often claimed the lives of people before they reached their teenage years. Death was a constant companion.
So everything in perspective.
But the founders of this world centuries ago could not have foreseen the pitfalls people would face today. They couldn’t know that children could gain such easy access to firearms or other weapons and without blinking take a human life. They never predicted an information mechanism that could deliver news to millions — even billions — of people all at once. Jefferson probably never considered that sometimes this news could be riddled with rumors or inaccurate messages that could be accepted as fact. Or that there would be so much of it available that people would have to accept nearly anything they see at face value because to ignore a story that turns out to be true could have unpseakable consequences.
All of this brings us to what happened late last night and today ta Woodlawn Middle School in Mebane where a fight between students on Thursday escalated into widespread talk on social media that something far worse would unfold on the campus on Friday. Here’s a message we received by email from a parent Thursday after our reporters had left for the night.
I would like my name left PRIVATE, but I am wanting to know how you the people who truly REPORT the news, how would you feel if when checking your facebook, the first thing you see is:
“fyi ALL PARENTS … There has been direct threat by a woodlawn student that come from a school for troubled boys to shoot another boy at woodlawn. police are tracking this and will have extra security tomorrow but have not bothered to ROBO CALL all PARENTS about the matter but they sure call if my kid owes 50 cent at lunch or there is a fundraiser”.
The principal is aware of the situation, the police are aware of the situation, in fact it was stated directly, “Mebane pd is even saying do not send kids to school!”.
Where is the logic in this?? The Alamance Burlington School System needs to be blown out of the water and reprimanded for such behavior. Needless to say, my child is going nowhere tomorrow, and I dare the school system to say it is an unexcused absence!
From what we can gather, the scary Facebook message cited above took on a multitude of lives late last night and Friday morning. A caller reached a member of our copydesk after midnight to inform us of it. Dozens of callers rang our office first thing Friday morning. They did the same to the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office and the Mebane Police Department — the latter had no jurisdiction in the case. Parents truly became worried when they saw the normal security measures in place at the school as opposed to a large county law enforcement presence they anticipated. They believe neither the sheriff’s office nor school system were taking matter seriously enough. Of course, one parent told us had they seen a big law enforcement presence they would’ve been “scared to death.”
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And a commenter later informed me that there was most certainly more police on campus today.
Law enforcement officials told us Friday morning they could not verify a credible threat. The school system says the same. Our reporter Roselee Papandrea tried to get information to our readers as quickly as possible. After talking to sheriff’s office spokesman Randy Jones she posted a story on our website. We also posted updated information on Facebook and Twitter.
But the stories still persist and grow larger. The threat rumors are having a domino affect and spreading to other schools. Local authorities and the traditional media are being a little overwhelmed by the power of social media to spark action perhaps even when the information isn’t the most reliable.
It’s understandable for parents to become so concerned. As I mentioned already we live in scary times that are in many ways of our own making. If the school system knew of this information explosion via Facebook last night would it have been wise to handle it with the robo calls suggested by the parent cited earlier — or even via its own Facebook posts? Is it possible that could’ve made the situtaion even worse?
It’s hard to know for sure. Such is the landscape now. One thing is pretty obvious, the school system can’t handle things the way it always has. It should look to adapt to social media the way its customers already have.
We’ll be following this all day. Our reporter Roselee Papandrea is covering the story and would welcome comments with parents. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 506-3045. Follow her on Twitter @tnroselee.
I’d like to be able to say that you can’t believe everything you read on Facebook and leave it at that. But in this day and age it’s not that simple — not at all.