Social media spreads false information during DB crisis

KCS official recommends following teacher instructions instead


Dobyns-Bennett High Contributor

FALSE INFORMATION SPREADS. This conversation was one of many that took place between students during a lockdown at Dobyns-Bennett High School. No shots were actually fired during the lockdown.

Sophie Williams , Staff Writer

Over the past few years, there have been an abundance of school shootings in different parts of the United States. Social media has had an enormous impact on many of these situations. A recent threat at Dobyns Bennett High School illustrated how social media can worsen an already dangerous situation.

A note was discovered in a bathroom at DB on November 19th, implying the possibility of violence. The content of the note spread quickly, and students began posting their opinions on social media.

The note was turned over to school staff and reported to the police. To make sure nothing serious happened, the police came to the school the following day to patrol the campus and make sure the area was safe.

Students spread a rumor that two students had been seen armed with firearms near the school, which caused Dobyns-Bennett to be placed on a lockdown. The allegations were eventually discovered to be untrue, yet the panic caused on social media was all too real.

Andy True is an assistant superintendent for Kingsport City Schools. True is responsible for supporting all of the non-instructional aspects of KCS operations, such as maintenance, custodial services, school nutrition and communications.

According to True, social media was filled with rumors and false information during the lockdown.

“When incorrect or incomplete information is posted during that time, it makes it harder to ensure everyone has the correct information,” True said. “This understandably raises the anxiety level for everyone involved in an already stressful situation.”

Valerie Fung, a senior at Dobyns-Bennett, was absent during the lockdown, yet received a glimpse of the chaos through social media.

“I threw a cursory glance at my phone, and it was blowing up with texts,” she said. “In a group chat, my friends were saying there was a lockdown and maybe a shooter, and my mom told me to come straight home, so I did. I stayed home the rest of the school day, relentlessly scrolling through any articles and videos I could find on what happened.”

Elizabeth Burch, another senior at Dobyns-Bennett, also had an encounter with social media during the lockdown.

“From my home, I was getting all sorts of rumors from ‘3 kids had been shot’ to ‘3 kids have been arrested’, most of which ended up not being true,” she said. “Very few students remained on the school grounds by the end of the school day, as parents, also quite fearful, had picked them up.”

When the social media dust had settled, the truth finally came out.

“We were told that Kingsport Central Dispatch had only received an unconfirmed citizen report alleging that two individuals had been seen walking in the nearby Highland community in the vicinity of the school and were possibly in possession of a firearm,” Burch said

Some students spread false pictures, such as a student in a gas mask, and claimed these were from Dobyns-Bennett. Statements, such as “gunshots” being heard by students, were also spread via Facebook and Instagram. These were all later proven false. In the meantime, these statements caused a serious panic among parents.

“Social Media is a very powerful tool that can have great benefits when used responsibly,” True said. “However, when it’s used irresponsibly or in a way to spread rumors or misinformation, it can cause great harm. We all need to make sure that when we text or post things on social media, we are sharing information that we know is absolutely true. Otherwise, it will create confusion and cause people to believe things that may not be true.”

Many parents and students were unhappy that school wasn’t closed the day after the threat had been found.

“There are a wide range of safety processes that are in place every day in KCS schools, including physical and operational safety measures,” True said. “These include things like having KPD school resource officers, having secure entrances, and using electronic key cards to enter the building.”

Additionally, KCS has a safety task force that includes members from KPD, the Kingsport Fire Department, first responders and mental health professionals.

“That group meets regularly to review safety issues and determine the best operational plans for our schools,” True said. “These plans were all in place the next day so that the school could remain open.”

Some people were also concerned that the media and the school were not telling the full story, or covering up more information, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support this claim.

The DB threat situation shows some similarities with an “infodemic”. This is a term the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have used to describe the huge amount of false information posted online about the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

The false pictures and rumors posted on social media during the DB scare created a similar situation. There was so much information, much of it false, that parents had a hard time figuring out what information was true.

“Social media scared a lot more people during the lockdown than I think it should have, but it was also a fast way to communicate one-on-one with people who were at the lockdown site,” Burch said.

Although social media is practical, Fung believes it is a bad source of information during an emergency.

“I think it does pose a problem, because it’s a very easy way for people to get the wrong idea or spread even more panic, which leads to rash and sometimes dangerous decisions,” she said. “When people get emotional, or they’re in a life threatening situation, the fear can make them irrational.”

Students have made suggestions for a better way to deal with a threatening situation in the future.

“I think that KCS should focus on finding the person who wrote the note as quickly as possible, apprehending them for our and their safety,” Fung said.

Burch feels that KCS should cancel school when necessary to avoid risks.

“Many of the students ended up not going to school [anyway] without knowing that it would be excused, just for their own safety,” she said.

Social media can be a double-edged sword. I can be helpful in some situations, and not so helpful in others. In an emergency, accurate information can make all the difference.

“There are many people working each and every day to make sure our schools are as safe as possible,” True said. “Listen and learn to the training that teachers, administrators, and KPD officers provide you at school. Should you ever be in a safety situation at school, follow the instructions of the adults that are helping you at that moment. They have also received training and likely have important information and knowledge that will help keep you as safe as possible.”

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