When social media turns into trouble: School threats, rumors, fights and more

Posted by on June 10, 2013

They’re talking about your school on social media:  gossip on Facebook, school fights on YouTube, threats on Twitter.

Every child with a cell phone, every driver who sees a bus accident, every parent who disagrees with a teacher…they’re all texting and tweeting and posting pictures, videos and comments. Do you know what they’re saying?

Information travels at lightning speed on social media and spreads exponentially every time someone shares a photo or joins the chat. What they’re saying may be embarrassing, damaging, dangerous or even untrue.  But you won’t know if you’re not monitoring.

Some problems fueled by social media in schools across the country:

  • A fistfight in the boys’ bathroom at school lands on YouTube before the principal even hears about it. Within the hour, hundreds of people have watched the video. A student recorded the fight and posted it online.
  • A girl posts death threats on Twitter to discourage a classmate from telling police about a crime.
  • A high school student is arrested after he uses social media to reveal plans to shoot his teachers.
  • Parents flood Facebook with complaints after getting repeated robocalls to vote for a school tax levy. On the same day the district failed to alert them about a suspicious package that forced a middle school evacuation.
  • A fake but official looking twitter account is filled with rumors about school violence. Frightened parents keep their kids at home. The school is slow to respond.

Schools have to move fast and with precision to inform and reassure parents when something affects the safety of children. When time is critical nothing is faster than mass text alerts and social media.

You cannot stop people from posting malicious content. What you can do is get out in front and control the damage. To understand the social media culture you have to be part of it:

  • Learn how social media works. Engage with the community through your own Facebook page and Twitter feed.
  • Listen to what people are saying. Listening is just as important as talking.
  • Join the conversation. When someone bashes your school post your own comments so others hear the truth.  Your messages can have a powerful influence.
  • Be transparent about who you are. Truth and transparency generate trust.
  • Reach out to people and establish friends and followers. Your followers will defend you and share your words with a wider audience – faster than any news release or press conference.
  • Use social media regularly so followers turn to you for information. If and when you have an emergency, they will be more likely to follow your advice or instructions.
  • Follow local reporters and bloggers. Get a feel for what’s important to them.

Some school districts are using Twitter as their own news channel. They share good news, respond to bad news, and lead the way on developing situations. Reporters look for their updates on Twitter instead of calling or sending email. Twitter is fast, and information goes out to reporters and the public at the same time.

If your school district has ongoing problems with threats, fights and rumors, you may want to adopt a strategy that government   agencies and businesses are using:  The social media control center.  This is a listening post concept, where a team monitors Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other popular sites. The goal is to hear the early signs of trouble and take action, by responding to rumors, correcting false information, and reporting serious threats to police before something awful happens. Some school resource officers and police gang units already monitor social channels. Monitoring should at least be part of your crisis communications plan.

Some school leaders still consider social media a useless nuisance and a time drain. To be absolutely honest, it does take time to develop skills. But social media is now part of the fabric of your community. It’s not going away. Use it before it uses you.

Ellen Miller

Communications and Media Consultant

Visit School Security Blog at:  www.schoolsecurityblog.com

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