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Our View: On our handling of recent social media threats




For parents, there are few things that evoke more fear than the thought of their children being a victim of a school shooting. 


Those fears have been magnified this month by the tragic deaths of 17 students and staff in Parkland, Florida. In wake of that tragedy, a rash of reports of threats of violence at schools, many of them delivered through social media, has spread throughout the country, including here in the Golden Triangle. 


This month, students in Columbus, Caledonia and West Point have been arrested in connection with threats or the potential for gun violence. In Starkville, parents rushed to pick up their children from Armstrong Middle School after a social media post claimed a person with a gun was on campus. Sunday, a social media post threatening violence Monday at schools in New Hope resulted in about half of the student population staying home from school. 


Understandably, law enforcement and school officials take every threat of such violence seriously. There is no other option. The safety of children is of paramount importance and every precaution is taken. 


For media, how we report these incidents are nuanced. Readers may note that our coverage of these events vary in terms of how the stories are presented. There is a reason for that disparity. 


While it is our duty to report these stories, it is also our responsibility to present these stories in a way that does not exploit the fears of the community or embolden others to duplicate threats in an misguided attempt to gain attention. 


This is particularly true when it comes to social media. It has long been a dynamic on that medium that when something gains attention, it often spreads. 


While it's hard to imagine that anyone would fail the see the harm in these kinds of "copy cat" acts, the fact remains that it often happens, as this recent rash of school threats clearly indicate. 


So we are sensitive to how the publicity of such an act can create and environment where others are tempted to seek that publicity as well. 


It is our job to inform, not to incite. 


In some cases where a threat seems imminent, our obligation is to present that news in great detail. In others, where the reporting shows the threat is less credible or law enforcement has the opportunity to plan, we believe we are obligated to report only the basic, most relevant facts. 


We do not intend to be dismissive of such threats, of course, but neither do we want to glorify those acts that represent some distorted attempt for attention rather than a real threat to safety.



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