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