Social media’s impact on fear within a small community

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Caya Craig '23, Social Media Manager

With the Oxford High School shooting taking place on Nov. 30, 2021, schools throughout Michigan have been receiving various threats on social media. This leads to panic for students, staff and parents in both middle and highschools. The event resulted in the shooting of 11 people, 4 of whom have passed away. For Grosse Pointe schools, the mass shooting took place only about an hour away and has created fear and uncertainty in the small community. These feelings have been especially heightened due to the misinformation circulating social media, allowing false information to spread like wildfire and creating panic within schools.

According to Sophia Martell ’22, being exposed to false information is a reality the majority of social media users have experienced. Social media has turned into a place of comfort and ease for people to turn to, oftentimes allowing intriguing information to spread because of its attractiveness to users.

“It’s easy to post fake news and instantly have people believe you because they want it to be true,” Martell said. “Donald Trump (for example), kept on spreading false information about the outcome of the election, and his followers believed it because they idolized him. This ultimately caused the insurrection on Jan. 6.”

For vice principal Cynthia Parravano, the influx of misinformation on social media is requiring users to be diligent about what they post and share. Being aware of the reality of what is going on is an important way to differentiate what’s false and what’s true.

“Part of the downfall of social media in this instance is that the tail grows taller and taller down the line,” Parravano said. “It is kind of like a game of telephone. Somebody says something, and others add on something else and then the (false information) gets bigger and bigger.”

For counselor Eric Burson, social media has resulted in several students feeling unsafe and uncomfortable in the school environment. Once someone sees a threat, regardless of whether it’s from a reliable source, panic is one of the first responses that person experiences. According to Burson, several students have opted to leave school, unable to learn due to feelings of dread.

“If anyone is fearful of coming into a school because of what happened, that’s totally understandable,” Burson said. “It’s different when (a shooting) happens in a different state or country. But Oxford is kind of like our backyard, which makes it even more real.”

According to Parravano, the administration takes every potential threat seriously and involves the local authorities to vet out what is an accurate threat or not. Oftentimes, schools are able to determine the origin of threats and work together to decide whether or not closing the school is absolutely necessary.

“You don’t want to put students in a school situation where there is a potential threat,” Parravano said. “The environment needs to be 100 percent safe in order to bring students back in. It is better to be safe than sorry.”

For Martell, social media can be beneficial in spreading awareness only if the topic is appropriately researched and sourced. In this case, there were incidents of students throughout Grosse Pointe sharing misinformation and creating turmoil within the community.

“There needs to be self-awareness about these things because it can lead to panic or miscommunication on an issue,” Martell said. “Social media is not something you can just trust right off the bat, and you are being manipulated if you truly believe that everything you see on there is true.”