Don’t fan the flames of panic

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Social media is great at keeping friends and family connected.

As a reliable source of breaking news? Not so much.

Wednesday’s massive law enforcement response to a report of possible gunshots at Lakeland High School provided a petri dish containing many elements of panic. The teacher who initiated the alarm is blameless, and in fact should be applauded for not hesitating in what could have been a situation where every second mattered. No, the over-reaction came shortly afterward.

At this point we turn the discussion over to Scott Maben. Maben is a former editor and reporter with the Spokesman-Review who now heads communications for Coeur d’Alene School District. As a professional journalist, education insider and parent of children in public schools, his is a credible voice on this issue.

Here’s Scott:

Families need to know their children are safe, and when a school lockdown or safety incident does occur, parents want timely and accurate updates on what is happening. The school districts in our area have made it the highest priority to focus on safety in our schools, working hand in hand with law enforcement. That includes improving how we communicate with our families. Our goal is always to share correct information with parents and guardians just as soon as possible.

Wednesday’s lockdown at Lakeland High School certainly reverberated throughout the county. In the Coeur d’Alene School District, we took calls from concerned parents as well as our own staff who believed there had been a shooting at the school. They were reacting to a Facebook post of “shots fired” that turned out to be untrue. In the Coeur d’Alene district we were prepared to place all of our schools in a precautionary “safety hold,” and to mobilize support teams to assist the Lakeland School District. We are relieved that wasn’t necessary and everyone was safe.

In our classrooms we talk with our students about being perceptive and cautious users of social media and apps. These are lessons all of us should keep in mind. Before you react to or spread “breaking news” or gossip on social media, pause a minute to reflect on the source. How do you know it’s true? Is there anything to verify the information is legitimate? Do you feel comfortable sharing a post that appears to be unsubstantiated?

The spread of rumors, hearsay and unconfirmed reports, including snippets of calls heard on police scanners that may be incomplete or inaccurate, can complicate and even impede our efforts. Sharing unverified information on social media feeds the fear and panic that parents, students and community members may experience. It also can jeopardize emergency responses and investigative efforts.

• • •

For the good of all, please do as Scott recommends. Scrutinize your source of information before passing it along and possibly fanning the flames of senseless overreaction. Life can be scary enough without the extra help.

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