Social Media: Your Worst Nightmare in a Crisis


It was a typical Wednesday night doing my homework when I got a text saying there had been a report of an active shooter on CWU’s campus. Immediately, I texted and called everyone I knew to make sure they were safe, and by doing this I heard many rumors. “Did you hear two people have been airlifted?” one of my closest friends said. I didn’t know what to believe. My gut was wrenching not knowing anything, so I turned to social media to keep me updated.

Rumors on The Web

I think it’s interesting how in a time of crisis, some people think it’s okay to freak people out and spread false information to gain attention. I don’t use Twitter very often, but that night people were rapidly posting on Twitter about the active shooter alert, so I scrolled through. It hurt my head to read the accusations people were posting about students being shot and what they have heard from their friends. Now, of course, I know these posts were false, but in that time of not knowing exactly what was going on, I had to turn to someone else who might have information about it. 

I found an interesting article on NBC News titled “Lies spread faster on social media than the truth does”, and this definitely relates to my experience. Vosoughi and colleagues “examined 126,000 stories tweeted by about 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. They found that false news stories were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories were. Untrue stories also had more staying power, carrying onto more ‘cascades,’ or unbroken re-tweet chains.” This saddens me that fake news is everywhere, giving people a false perception of reality.

From the Inside 

I had many friends in lockdown in different buildings on campus that night. I constantly checked Snapchat for updates on their well-being. I felt relieved to not have been on campus at this time, but I still felt a terrible feeling for the students that must have been terrified out of their minds. Not only terrified that there could possibly be an active shooter in their midst but terrified that someone could have been injured or airlifted, which was what was being advertised on social media.

Without social media sites, specifically Snapchat, I wouldn’t have known what was going on inside the buildings. I saw pictures of crowded rooms and sometimes just images saying “hiding.” I used Snapchat to reach many of my friends and by using “maps” to see if their location was on campus. 

I Should’ve Known Better

I never thought that I would encounter a situation like this, and even for me as well as many other students off campus at that time, it was gut-wrenching and scary. An article posted on the New York Times about the Vegas shooting at Route 91 Harvest Music Festival jogged my memory. For that shooting, many people posted on social media that there were multiple shooters, when in fact there wasn’t, and that the police were lying. There were many conspiracy theories due to false posts and people became skeptical. 

I have learned not to use social media as a reliable source to inform me of the news. People were spreading information like crazy, people that I didn’t know, which means people that I couldn’t trust. I started listening to the police scanner and I also checked ‘The Observer’ Twitter account because being a part of the newspaper myself, I knew they would give me accurate information. I should have checked with verified, accurate sources in the first place, and that would have saved me a lot of anxiety.