Social media and spreading rumors

Our view

Social media, the Internet and email are great inventions. Many of us use these tools every day for work, school and everyday communications.

However there are times when social media, particularly Facebook and even worse, Topix, can do more harm than good to a community.

A prime example is the situation at Mingo Central High School in West Virginia earlier this week. A student made a comment to another student that he had a gun. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. But, when the rumors and gossip began, the story rapidly spiraled out of control.

False and unconfirmed statements can spread like wildfire and do just as much damage. Naturally, parents are going to be concerned and their fears can quickly turn into panic. After all, we have seen devastating school shootings across the United States the past few years. If you say the word “Columbine,” it instantly strikes a nerve in most people.

The lockdown at the West Virginia school most likely could have been avoided if not for social media and e-mails. The exchange of messages — even by parents — had many apprehensive about sending their children to school. Several parents went to the school to sign their kids out, even though the situation was blown out of proportion.

The initial incident had been resolved Monday afternoon, but the rumors persisted and only served to add fuel to the fire.

This is a perfect example of how social media can create unnecessary panic.

We have come a far cry from backyard over-the-fence gossiping.

There was another situation in the Phelps, Ky., area in which some residents reported a low-flying airplane and that it may have crashed. The Phelps Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched and some media reports say a helicopter was sent out to look for a possible downed aircraft. Unconfirmed reports say it was a military training exercise and that was why the plane was flying so low over the mountaintops.

Facebook and Twitter are great ways to communicate with family and friends. Many of us could not do our jobs if we did not have the Internet and email. That is just the way things have changed.

However, as with many tools that can aid society, sometimes they can also be detriments.

Please be careful when spreading messages via social media and email unless the topic you are talking about is confirmed. Gossip, in any form, is just idle talk.

We all need to responsibly participate in social media. Used correctly, it is a terrific tool for both gaining and giving information. Used incorrectly, it can induce panic, chaos and confusion.

Always remember that rumors are not only damaging, but can also be dangerous, escalating a manageable situation into a state of panic. So try to avoid getting involved in spreading hearsay and unconfirmed issues.

It’s just the right thing to do.

Our view