Social media critically examined during times of trauma
While general management junior Marc Colcer was studying for an exam Monday afternoon, his phone came to life as friends caught wind of the incident involving an MSU professor who reportedly stripped and began shouting profanities at students on the ground floor of the Engineering Building.
“I do have a pretty big social reach at MSU,” said Colcer, who manages various Internet-based promotional campaigns in East Lansing. “They probably just assumed I would know or have some clue whether the story was true or not.”
Although at first, Colcer could not imagine the story students told to be true, he turned to Facebook and other social media sites to find out more about the incident. When his friend posted a blog link with a picture of the naked professor on Facebook, Colcer tweeted it out to his followers on Twitter. Many other students like Colcer also began posting the story on Reddit, Facebook and Twitter. From there, the incident went viral, spreading to blogs and news organizations across the world.
In a Steering Committee meeting Tuesday, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon expressed concern about the way social media expanded the scope of the incident.
“The complication of social media, with everyone with a camera and a cell phone, is one that we continue to struggle with in terms of information because the event would not, under (normal) circumstances, trigger one set of alerts,” Simon said at Tuesday’s Steering Committee meeting.
“There’s also the need for more crisp communication about what the outcome was. Whether that would have controlled some of the rumors, tweets and other things, I’m not quite sure.”
Turning to social media during a traumatic incident has become common for teens and young adults, who feel a more immediate response from vast virtual networks rather than through real people, psychology professor Linda Jackson said in an email.
“Social media has a number of advantages over real people — its immediacy and availability, its anonymity, its potential for multiple support sources in response to your problem and, (in addition), the ability to obtain multiple perspectives on the problem,” Jackson said.
Still, Jackson said only a limited segment of the younger generation posts pictures of traumatic events, making Monday’s incident somewhat unique.
“The majority react with dismay, anxiety, upset (feelings), even horror at what they see happening; they need a while to ‘digest it,’” Jackson said. “During this ‘while,’ they’re unlikely to pull out the cell phones and take a picture. I (think) that people who want to draw attention to themselves are the picture capturers.”
Colcer found a photo of the professor and reposted it to his Twitter account. The New York Daily News in New York City found his tweet, posted it on their story and attributed the photo to Colcer.
“It was just so bizarre — not only is this rumor true, but here’s a picture to back it up,” Colcer said of why he tweeted the picture.
“Just be careful; with social media, anything you say can be used to be published in things. It’s not like (New York Daily News) asked me for permission to post that picture.”