Our View: Take social media posts with a grain of salt

DKS Editors

Summary: A flood of tweets Monday intensified reports of a campus burglary. The tweets spread unconfirmed rumors across campus, triggering an overwhelming number of calls to Kent police dispatchers.

Anyone following social media posts coming from the Kent State campus Sunday night and early Monday morning saw an alarming trend: “Two masked gunmen on campus. Stay where you are while Kent State goes into an unofficial lockdown.”

Unsurprisingly, the tweets and texts flying around campus caused “panic” within the Kent State community. As the night progressed, more “details” were added to the story, taking an already twisted account and further muddying it.

The night’s real concern came not from the presumed threat but from the way student tweets blew the situation out of proportion.

As it turned out, Kent police said Monday that no weapons were seen. That idea and descriptions of the burglary suspects originated on social media, creating unnecessary panic and hindering police efforts to address the real situation.

University spokesman Eric Mansfield said Kent State police received more than 100 phone calls in 45 minutes stemming from the Twitter firestorm. The mass amount of calls overwhelmed dispatchers.

This rapid dissemination of rumors emphasized two serious flaws in the way we use and respond to social media.

First, not everything posted on social media is fact. Pay attention to the source. This sounds infantile in its obviousness, but it’s one of the first rules to get thrown out during a crisis (or assumed crisis). People hungry for information latch on to the first leaked reports and immediately accept them as fact. The result — as we saw Monday — can be confusing, at the least.

Not to say that social media isn’t a great way to spread news and stay informed. How many times have we — the media included — relied on every day people transmitting information via social media to get the honest picture of a news situation? In some cases, social media from the inside is the only way to get details from a closed scene, but always take early news reports with a grain of salt.

Second, be conscious of what you post. Don’t preach hearsay. Don’t spread rumors. There’s a fine line between sharing information and adding to the noise.

A rule of thumb: Be transparent about what you know and what you just assume.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.