Officials chastise misinformation spreaders
By Miles Smith
The spread of misinformation online and rude behavior on social media have recently caught the attention of local officials and business owners who are cautioning the public against engaging in either while surfing the web.
The Lockhart Independent School District faced an uphill battle this week as rumors about threats and guns on campus ran rampant on Facebook, keeping the administration busy.
In reality, the Lockhart police assisted the district in investigating a pair of incidents regarding potential threats at Lockhart High School to security and found no peril in either case, according to officials.
The district later responded to rumors about guns on campus with a clarification that while no firearms had been found at the High School last week, a BB gun had been confiscated from a locker the previous week.
In another incident, thoughts, emotions, accounts and opinions ran the gamut on Facebook surrounding a student walkout at Lockhart Junior High School on Thursday, where approximately 100 students walked outdoors to show solidarity with the students at Douglas High School in the wake of a shooting massacre that killed 17 total.
While the students had voluntarily staged the walkout, online rumors ranged from reports of mass hysteria to students having been locked out of the school.
District officials said the gossip and spread of misinformation on Facebook regarding the situations resulted in a lot of extra work for district officials.
“Last week, LISD had three different news stations contact the communications office saying parents had contacted them with reports of concerns that the district then had to confirm and clarify as total and complete falsehoods,” said Christina Courson, public information. “In the superintendent’s letter to parents, Dr. Bohn very directly asked for the adults to help stop the spread of false information.”
Superintendent Susan Bohn said that false reports and spreading misinformation could jeopardize student safety.
“You may understand that when people make false statements about the safety and security of our campuses, it actually compromises our ability to engage in legitimate threat assessment and keep our students and staff safe,” Bohn said. “It is very difficult for us to do the most important work we do – keeping our students and staff safe – when we respond to students who engage in this behavior. Unfortunately, we at the district have no control over what parents say or do.”
Adults behaving badly
Online parental and guardian behavior surrounding the event – which included unsubstantiated accusatory remarks and critical online commentary – seems to support a study conducted by US Omnibus in 2014 about how adults behave on the Internet. According to the study, topics most likely to set off Internet trolls include politics, news and current events and religion. Thirty-nine percent of respondents to the survey reported seeing Internet trolling behavior on Facebook and Twitter, which trailed only chat boards/forums/imageboards (45 percent) for malicious comments.
District Attorney Fred Weber said he was tired of seeing people treating each other disrespectfully online, noting that he’d gotten a number of complaints on his desk from people wanting to prosecute others for essentially insulting them on Facebook.
While insults aren’t illegal, they are certainly rude and uncalled for, Weber said.
“I’m getting more and more complaints from people related to social media,” Weber said in January. “People are getting attacked and having malicious comments made about them and their businesses. Bad behavior, as frustrating as it is, is not illegal, unless there’s threat of bodily harm or a threat made to your property.
“I would just like to see people be more civil to one another. Display the respect to someone on social media that you would show them in person. And if you have a complaint about a business, discuss it directly with the business owner.”
The Lockhart Post-Register has seen its share of insults, heated comments and unsubstantiated remarks hurled its way on its Facebook page, prompting owner Dana Garrett to stand in solidarity with Bohn and Weber in denouncing bad behavior on the Internet.
Garrett echoed Weber’s sentiment about treating people online the same way you’d treat them in person.
“What my Granny used to say ‘You can always get more bees with honey,’ has always stuck with me. So I have always tried to have conversations that are constructive in nature, rather than ‘destructive.’ When I hear about the bullying issue, the main thought that comes to mind is that any bullying is ‘destructive’ in nature, whether it be on an elementary school playground or on social media sites like Facebook,” Garrett said. “Bullying can be seen on just about every Facebook community conversation page, but it doesn’t have to be.
“Communities can be torn apart on Facebook or they can be built up. It’s up to the citizens of Lockhart to determine if they want to live in a ‘sour grape’ community, or one with honey. Let’s start stopping the bullying at home with the parents. Let’s tell our kids before they go to school that the shirt and pants they are wearing makes them look ‘good as well as smart.’ Then, after they leave for school let’s get on your favorite community Facebook page and write something positive for a change. Compliment a local business that is trying hard to survive a small town business climate. Compliment a postal worker that just weathered 20-degree windchill weather to bring your mail. Say thanks to your mechanic that got your car back running good so you could take your kids to school. Tell your grocery clerk how wonderful it is to see them smile when they are working so hard checking your groceries.
“After all we all can attract more friendly businesses and customers to Lockhart with “honey.”