Two incidents at area high schools in recent weeks make it clear that for all the good that social media does to create communities of interest and connect people, its power can be abused and lead to unnecessary alarm.
The technology is adding more angst to already jittery school officials and parents. That’s because Newtown is still a raw memory, a code word now for “anything can happen.” Indeed. Anything can happen, which is reason for ever more vigilance and education by school officials and parents in the appropriate use of social media by students.
A 16-year-old student at Greensboro’s Page High School was charged this week with making a false report and communicating threats, among other charges, after authorities said she used a fellow student’s Facebook page to post threats to students and staff at Page, the Journal’s Steve Mann reported. She wrote that she was going to bring a gun to school and kill people and then kill herself. The message turned out to be a hoax.
A few days earlier, a rumor that someone was planning a violent attack at West Forsyth High School was spread widely on social media, leading school officials to grant excused absences for students whose parents were concerned. The rumor had been ruled unfounded, which Principal Charles McAninch told parents in an 8 a.m. automated phone message, but about half of the students stayed home anyway.
Who could blame them? Some parents complained that school officials waited too long to send out a message, but the rumor had only spread the evening before.
“The reality is that rumors that used to spread in hours and days now spread in minutes and seconds,” Ken Trump, a national school-safety expert, told the Journal. “Schools are never going to be 100 percent ahead of social media, but the challenge for them is how to narrow the gap,” Trump said. “They need to be able to hit the ground running.”
Trump recommends school officials have plans for every possible scenario, and decide in advance what to say. That’s good advice. We probably don’t want school officials to overreact to every rumor, so guidelines for communication make sense.
Parents have a role to play, too. Sit your teenagers down and explain to them the grave consequences of using social media to make threats and spread rumors. The parents of the student at Page High School no doubt wish they’d had that talk. Their daughter faces more than two years in prison if convicted.
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