In the week following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting that left 17 people dead, social media has exploded with waves of fake content exploiting schools and creating unneeded anxiety on campuses across South Florida.
In less than 24 hours after the tragedy, violent threats at Miami-Dade County Public Schools skyrocketed from about one a week to more than 50 in a single day, Miami-Dade school officials say. Out of those cases, only a few arrests were made and the others were deemed “not credible.”
Those threats typically consisted of people posting threatening pictures that were intended as “jokes,” and publishing posts about explosives and intentions to duplicate what happened in Parkland on Feb. 14, Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Ian A. Moffett told the Miami Herald.
But the abuse hasn’t stopped there. It’s reached another other level, school officials say.
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“Fifteen years ago, this wouldn’t even be an issue,” Moffett said. “We’re seeing people get more and more creative.”
Apart from fake threats infiltrating cyberspace, online users, who often remain untraceable, have gone as far as doctoring entire news stories with false content, creating immense confusion and fear for parents and their children.
It happened to the Miami Herald last week. A story was photo-shopped to have a completely different headline. The internet troll also changed the story’s text and kept the reporter’s real name on the photo to seem credible. Also doctored were quotes from the school’s principal and a county official. (Here’s that real story).
Within hours, dozens of parents were blowing up the school’s landline and the journalist’s email inbox. The worry was real.
“As soon as I saw my name with quote marks around it I already knew the article was not real,” W. R. Thomas Middle School Principal Wendy Barnett told the Miami Herald Wednesday. “But the kids didn’t know that. They were worried.”
In another instance, a Feb. 19 tweet by Miami-Dade County Public Schools was manipulated on Snapchat to say schools were shut down — which was false.
In response, the school debunked the fake announcement by tweeting out that schools were indeed open and, “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
So, how can you do your due diligence in the era of non-stop technology? Here are some tips on how to vet a social media posts regarding possible threats at a Miami-Dade County school.
▪ Check your source.
Is the content you’re reading coming from a reliable source or is it coming from a random user on Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook?
Make sure you try to find the original creator of the content., such as an official website or social media accounts for police, school officials or a trusted media outlet.
▪ Is it a screen shot?
If the threat you are reading is a screengrab of a post, chances are it is fake. Try to find the screen shot on that entity’s actual official page or website.
▪ Contact your school directly.
Call your school’s main phone number or ask a teacher. If there was a threat issued to a particular school, the principal would have been notified. Also check the school’s official social media account.
▪ Call police.
You can call or email Miami-Dade Schools police, the entity charged with keeping schools in the loop:
▪ Want to remain anonymous?
Contact Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS-8477
▪ Parents, check your children’s phone.
“I’m calling on all parents to check your child’s phone. Make sure your kids have proper social media etiquette. Get involved. Have a dialogue. What are they posting? What photos do they have saved? Who are they talking to?” said Moffett.
▪ Any doubt about a post in any way?
Don’t spread a possible rumor by sharing the post.