A professor at the Journalism School said today “Rumors have always been the poison of journalism & Twitter can inject that poison directly into a community’s fear."
Today at 1:30 pm someone on our campus tweeted “#911 Corrections: University Hospital is on lockdown; gunman on the loose.” Here is an excerpt from the campus newspaper:
For roughly the next hour and a half, retweets, text messages, phone calls and hurried conversations at MU helped the tweet become a full-fledged rumor. At one point, another terrifying rumor took hold via Twitter: that shots had been fired in Virginia Avenue parking garage.
The fact was, there was no gunman on campus. At noon, University Hospital, and then at 12:30 p.m., Truman Veterans Hospital were locked down as a precaution in connection with the search for a suspect in three homicides in Callaway County. Authorities were concerned the gunman in those cases might try to gain access to University Hospital, where a survivor of one of the shootings was being treated.
The lockdown was announced in a variety of ways, including a campus-wide e-mail, a Twitter message and notifications on the MU Alert page and MU homepage. But the campuswide text alert system was never used.
MU Alert announced the lockdown via Twitter at about 1:30 p.m., almost two hours after the lockdown at University Hospital. At about 3:30 p.m., the MU Alert system delivered a tweet to dispel the unsubstantiated rumors.
It read: “We are releasing information as quickly as possible; it’s important to check facts first. Many rumors that are not true are circulating.”
Hearing that there is a gunman on campus is never a good news. My university has 33,000 students and couple of thousand employees. Add to that the parents, brothers and sisters of those students. You can see the magnitude of what one harmful wrong tweet can do.
Please tweet wisely!