DACULA — On Tuesday morning, a group of eighth-graders came to school talking about a threatening message that had appeared on a Facebook page the night before.
Nothing happened that day, and administrators at Dacula Middle School couldn’t immediately verify that a threat had been made, as the Facebook page was no longer accessible, principal Kellye Riggins said.
But with the gossip mill churning, school officials had to address the situation, as they would with any type of rumor, Riggins said. Administrators contacted school police and began an active investigation, talking to the small group of students who reported seeing the message on Facebook.
On Wednesday, school officials were able to obtain a copy of what was posted, and school police are currently working with Facebook to determine who was behind the page, Riggins said.
“We have worked diligently to track down the person responsible for the posting,” she said. “We have taken steps to ensure the safety of our students and staff and to make certain that our core business of teaching and learning continues.”
Ken Trump, a school safety consultant, said “minor nonincidents” such as this one at Dacula Middle are becoming more common. When they happen, they’re disruptive, consuming hours or days of administrators’ time.
“We’re increasingly seeing social media rumors get a greater life than some of the actual incidents or real safety issues in a school,” Trump said. “With text messages and social media, the trajectory is instant. The rumor mill typically gets to be greater than the actual problem itself.”
When rumors linger, in the best case scenario, misinformation is spread, Trump said. in the worst case scenario, spin-off incidents can occur based on the rumors.
“You can’t let it linger,” he said. “It gets a life of its own.”
Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, suggests that schools have a crisis communication plan in place in addition to a crisis plan. When a rumor pops up, administrators have to be prepared to get their message out to parents and the community.
One school district in Ohio has a blog dedicated to dispelling rumors, Trump noted.
“The trajectory is so rapid on these rumors that you can’t rely on old-school methods,” he said.