Wildfire, an app allowing students to alert others of emergency situations on campus, was introduced to campus a few weeks ago. Alerting students of emergency situations sounds great in practice, however, a majority of the posts on Wildfire are unverified. Students need to verify information reported on social media before spreading rumors.
Misinformation diffused through campus of multiple assailants, bomb threats, and other threats that were found untrue. For example, The day of the University of Texas stabbing was one of the most frightening days of my life. Reading social media reports, I was certain the University was under attack
Part of the problem that day stemmed from a delay on the University to send out a safety alert, but social media also contributed to the problem. In times of crisis, social media posts can spread misinformation. Apps like Wildfire won’t help with this basic problem.
With Wildfire’s emerging popularity on campus, students need to remember to verify the information they read on social media before spreading it. While some of the burden rests on university officials to quickly communicate info to students, students need to hold off on circulating info until official sources validate it. Under the Clery Act, universities receiving federal financial aid are required to alert students of campus safety information. However, students reporting information on social media has hindered UT’s ability to follow this requirement.
Jimmy Johnson, the Interim Associate Vice President for Campus Safety and Security, believes students are too quick to trust information read on social media.
“People are just regurgitating information they haven’t vetted,” Johnson. “They’re not from official sources.”
For example, two weeks ago one Wildfire user reported on the app that a man assaulted her boyfriend near the stadium in a suspected robbery.
Johnson, however, took issue with the post. The Clery Act requires them to alert students of potential dangers on campus, but no campus alert was sent out about the man. Johnson did not know about the incident until he read it on Wildfire. Students need to report crimes to police rather than social media if they really want to ensure student safety.
“I would assume one of two things,” Johnson said. “Either it was false, or they did not call 911.”
Posts on Wildfire, Twitter, Facebook and other social websites do not require verification of info. Users can also post anonymously, making these sites akin to gossip magazines. The problem with student’ reliance on social media occurs when students do not bother to verify the information they read. Additionally, some students fail to report information to police. Johnson noted that far more students tweeted out misinformation than called UTPD to report it during the UT stabbing. He warns students to know where the info they spread originates.
“If it’s not coming from an official source,” Johnson said. “It hasn’t been validated.” Official sources include UTPD and APD.
No one, including myself, wants to relive the terror of a mass panic because of misinformation. When reading crime reports on Wildfire, always question and verify.
Treuthardt is a Journalism and Marketing major from Allen, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @jamestreuthardt.