Another Day, Another “Gunman”

It was not our plan to write another blog post about university safety communication however, for the second day in a row, one of North Carolina’s universities was faced with a crisis as a reported gunman was spotted on campus. Much like how the University of North Carolina Wilmington alerted their students, East Carolina University also utilized all tools necessary in order to notify their students. Officials issued a complete lockdown and notified students via e-mail, phone calls, text messaging and social media sites. However, the role social media played in UNCW’s crisis is far different from what happened at ECU.

Reports of a gunman walking through campus started circulating around 10 am this morning and there was surveillance of a man with a cowboy hat carrying what looked like a large riffle walking on a 5th Street, a road that runs through the campus. As students were locked up in class, tweets began to flood in reporting the incident and some even saying that they saw the gunman and that there were hostages. However, after three hours of searching the Greenville Police tracked down the suspect and found that the “rifle” was in fact an umbrella. Greenville police Sgt. Carlton Williams stated that rumors circulating on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter caused authorities to “chase ghosts” and follow leads that were false.

Although yesterday’s post focused on how social media has allowed us to share and cooperate in moments of crisis, there is also a negative side to the impact it has on the crisis communication. Officials utilize the tweets and posts on social media sites in order to gain information and as you can see from today, often have to take those tweets at face value. There’s always that “better safe than sorry” feeling, especially in the wake of the Virgina Tech massacre, but to what extent should authorities follow-up on information provided through social media?

-Alaethea Hensley, Jessica Kingman, & Lauren Phelps

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8 thoughts on “Another Day, Another “Gunman”

  1. I actually heard that the ECU’s “gunman” was actually holding an umbrella, not a gun, from facebook. That’s the impact that social media has on society. People are now finding out news from social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, instead of the actual news. But what if the allegations were false? That’s the risk your taking from checking social media sites first, before news stations, although some news stations/channels can give out misleading information as well. Just look at the article, from FOX news about the “gunman” on UNCW’s campus.
    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/11/15/unc-wilmington-holds-classes-with-gunman-at-large/

    That makes our University look bad and gives off the impression that they don’t care about our safety. Who can we really trust more: the news or social media?

  2. I have to believe that on the heels of what happened at UNCW the night before, the actions of the police in Greenville was a knee jerk reaction. As more people began reporting it via social media, the police jumped on it very quickly, AS THEY SHOULD HAVE, to avoid what MAY have happened. Better safe than sorry was probably running through their heads and I believe that had an actual incident occurred and the police hadn’t responded as they did, the backlash would be way, way worse than what they got for overblowing a false alarm.

  3. This is a really interesting point. It’s definitely difficult to know what information you can really trust these days. It seems like social media has brought people closer so that an entire state, or even the whole country seems like a small town where gossip and rumors run rampant. I certainly don’t blame ECU for taking this seriously. As you said, better safe than sorry. I’m just curious about how talk of hostages could even begin. Social media should be used more responsibly than that.

  4. The aftermath of what happened in the ECU lockdown situation truly is an example of how social media is a double-edged sword. Social media causes things to spread, and spread fast. Statements were made by people I know that were entirely false about the gunman on our own campus, so I can easily see how things were misconstrued on ECU’s campus. It just leaves the police department in a tough spot in determining what should be done and who should they believe. Since the students are the population at hand who’s safety is concerned about, the police have to believe that the rumors are true. It is really unfortunate that this leaves ECU at the end of a lot of bad jokes and scrutiny, because I feel like they made the best choice possible. If they hadn’t have done so, then they still could’ve received negative/dramatic reactions like the one the Fox News placed for our campus.

  5. Although ECU was criticized and made fun of or a while regarding this “gunman” incident, I think ECU took the necessary actions to make sure that everyone was safe. Fortunately, the gunman only turned out to be an average guy with an umbrella. It could have been way worse! On the bright side, ECU was prepared to handle the situation if it would have been worse. If the gunman would have been real and ECU had not reacted like it did, then ECU would more than likely be taking a lot harder hits from the media.

  6. This feels like a modern-day version of crying wolf. With social media being as prominent as it is today, its not surprising that something like this would happen and that the police would be involved based on what someone or (people) are saying on Facebook or twitter. I think it was right for the police to “chase a ghost” because its better to be safe than sorry. On the other hand, if something like this was to happen again, I wouldn’t want the police to be less efficient or quick because maybe they don’t want to make the same mistake again and investigate something that’s not even really happening. So people should be careful what they post online and should not contribute to rumors getting started.

  7. When I heard about the gunman, I was a little curious as to how serious the situation was. It was around 1 AM that I was notified by my roomate of the situation. While this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of such things, it was different to know it was happening at our school. However, when I found out that the individual wasn’t a true gunman, I felt sorry for him. Whatever situation it was that pushed him to get to that point, must have been extreme…. And to find out that multiple, well known media outlets had picked up the story and turned it into a hard knock story was sad to say the least. I’ve heard many different versions of the story but I’ve settled on the story that he did not harm anyone and even apologized during the robbery. These social outlets we all use should be monitored, only for the fact that we have slandered a possibly misunderstood character. I feel a good way to have solved this would have been to immediately have had the police release a PROPER story of the situation. Word spreads quickly, but if the words are correct.. less damage could be done.

  8. I personally thought it was ridiculous that East Carolina confused a man carrying an umbrella with a rifle. I also thought it was ridiculous how out of proportion the media blew up both the gunman at UNCW and East Carolina. The media has the power to really blow everything out of proportion and I think they did in both cases. I think that ECU heard about the gunman at UNCW the day before and acted as a result of that. Their thoughts were so focused on the threat of a gunman that they confused an umbrella with a gun, a laughable mistake.

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