Last week was a perfect example of how people should not get spun on false rumors via social media. With many unconfirmed rumors running a muck, Freedom High School was left with a half empty campus and an increased police presence which should never have happened.
I won’t go into details, but a student thought they saw someone with a weapon. This caused the school to go into a “modified lock down” keeping students in their period 1 classes. Some students began to post messages via social media which got back to parents who became concerned and either called the police or went down to the school to pull their child out of school.
I get it, all potential threats of violence need to be investigated thoroughly and taken seriously, but people also need to realize that rumors are sometimes false. We live in a society where information is made available instantly and sometimes that can work against us because of the source.
Rather than act on a single post, it should be confirmed, explained, and action should be taken before information is spread. For example, one post I saw had 12-guns on campus—clearly this was false, but multiple people posted it as if it was fact.
Since information was not being shared via the School District or Police Department quick enough, people took those students messages and began to spread the information as fact—all of a sudden, an unconfirmed rumor becomes like a game of telephone where the messages changes each time its repeated. As a parent, I’d like to think this is a case of just wanting to pass the information along rather than being mischievous.
The lie can spread fast, but the truth can spread faster, too. The problem with the Freedom High School situation was that the truth wasn’t getting out. By period four, nearly 64% of the school’s students were deemed “absent” or pulled from school.
Due to the rumors on Thursday night and into Friday, attendance was affected according to Erik Faulkner, Principal, Freedom High School. Below are the attendance figures he gave me from November 2.
“Productivity or loss of time toward other duties and responsibilities was significant. All 5 of our administrators and the support of district personnel was focused on this incident for most of the day,” said Faulkner.
Faulkner also explained via email that the District used their advisory time to help educate students about rumors, false information, the spreading of unsubstantiated rumors, and the potential consequences of social media. This has also been done through some of our other classes as well, but mostly through advisory.
Additionally, Mr. Faulkner held a meeting with parents through Coffee with the Principal to review such topics and implore parents to monitor and help guide their student’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts.
With the absence of students and staff time, this has a cost as each student absent costs the school money from the state. While the first responsibility is safety, a lot of resources were used to ensure nothing tragic occurred. Only after can one really go back and see the financial burden rumors cause.
One teacher informed me the District sent out many emails throughout the day ensuring the teachers “everything was okay”. The City of Oakley also used resources to keep up with th updates on the incident while the Library was also affected—it all comes with a cost.
“At the height of the event, we (Oakley PD) had 12 sworn personnel on the school grounds, but that was based on the report of a possible weapon on school grounds. As soon as that threat was deemed unsubstantiated, we cut back to 4,” said Oakley Police Chief Bani Kollo. “The true cost was to those very taxpayers who did not have those resources available to them absent an emergency. While we were spending our time managing the safety of the school, we were not getting the everyday routine work done. It worked out as we had a relatively light day but it could have been ugly.”
On Monday, Chief Kollo explained that he had the School Resource Officer on overtime to ensure there was a consistent presence on the grounds due to an increase in violence the prior week with three fights.
At the end of the day, Oakley PD did a fabulous job ensuring Freedom High Students safety and keeping up with the rumors over a week’s timeline. They prevented a real tragedy from potentially happening and I salute them—same goes for the School District! While I know safety is first priority, we are also talking about thousands of dollars in resources on a rumor and taking away potential service from the rest of the City.
The lesson from the incident is “rumors” and how false information causes unneeded stress during an incident.
According to the Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2012 report, 36 percent of people who use Twitter for news said most of the links they follow come from friends and family, while 27 percent say most come from news organizations, and 18 percent mostly follow links from other organizations such as think tanks.
It’s easy to see how rumors spread so quickly when “news” is coming from family and friends because they are trusted. While none of the rumors could be verified, will Oakley PD or the school district ever really know if there was a gun on campus? Thank god nothing was found and thank god no one was hurt.
Still, even with nothing confirmed, rumors quickly spread throughout social media causing a panic because the correct information could not get out quick enough which let rumors replace facts—people ran with them.
According to Social Media Today, one of the toughest jobs in social media is tracking down and beating untrue rumors.
The lessons from a recent experiment show that rumors spread because:
- They have ‘believability’ – they are plausible because of existing beliefs and prejudices about the subject or topic of the rumor
- Up to 90% of those who make ‘first contact’ with the rumor are prepared to believe it, or at the very least, pass it on without a pejorative judgment
- Every additional ‘wave’ of people who come into contact with the rumor are increasingly likely to believe it.
What does that mean for those the rumor harms?
- The more numerous and deep the weaknesses in your current reputation, the more likely lies and miss-perceptions will be believed. Fix your reputation first!
- It takes as little as three steps to turn a miss-perception into a widely believed truth. So it’s unlikely you can stop the initial spread. You simply can’t respond as fast as the rumor will spread. So the most important thing is not speed, but conceiving a more believable and powerful rebuttal.
- You can take the same route as the rumor to correct it – using exactly the same techniques (images, emotion, appeal to existing perceptions, authority) to allow the replacement fact to spread. Going direct to the end recipients of the rumor is possible in a social media environment, but repeating a rumor simply helps pass the rumor on to those who hadn’t yet heard it (probably far more people than you realize). Messages get their veracity from repetition and authority of those who pass them on, so use the same networks that passed the rumor on in the first place.
The truth is rumors of some sort will always spread and we can’t control that, but what we can control is our reaction to them until a source of authority can provide the real story.
Take Hurricane Sandy for example, so much misinformation was being spread FEMA actually created a “rumor control” section on its website to dispel misinformation on social networks in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. Maybe it’s time for City of Oakley, Oakley PD or the School District can set up a page that provides up to date information during incidents to limit the rumors.
To bring this back to a local incident, a few days after the Freedom incident, there was a hit and run accident by Orchard Park School. Rumors flew quickly via Facebook of a down airplane, gun shots, or gang retaliation. None of it was true and was confirmed pretty quickly by Chief Kollo that is was false.
Whether we like to admit it or not, at one point in time or another, we are all part of the problem of spreading rumors not because we are malicious, but because we want to share information quickly and sometimes its believable so we share it. Social media is an easy outlet because many people see it in an instant.
Rather than instantly reacting, the Freedom High School incident is a perfect example as to why sometimes we should slow down and truly think about what you are posting. Sometimes quick is not always best as one will do more harm than good.
In the end, ultimately all bad information always will correct itself, its just a matter of how long. Sometimes this can take weeks, months, or a year. For instance, to this day some people believe the Oakley City Council gave the City Manager a house–completely false!
As a community, we sometimes are quick to spread information in which we should also be quick to work together to correct it. The only thing we can truly do to better our community in these types of situation is to educate our children to show how damaging rumors truly are not just on reputations, but on taxpayers as well.
We should all take this incident and learn from it. Slow down, think about your post and what “damage” it could cost. Sometimes the best action is non-action.
By Michael Burkholder