Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Social media tips weren’t reviewed during MSU shooting due to “concerning” policy

February 21, 2024
An overhead view of the first responders that arrived to MSU Union during the response of a shooting on Michigan State’s campus on the night Feb. 13, 2023.
An overhead view of the first responders that arrived to MSU Union during the response of a shooting on Michigan State’s campus on the night Feb. 13, 2023. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

During the evening hours of Feb. 13, 2023, as a gunman was still at large, a deluge of tips poured in from the thousands of MSU students sheltering in place. 

Community members called MSU’s Department of Police and Public Safety’s (DPPS) public line by the hundreds and sent countless tips through their official social media pages.

But due to an outdated policy, no one reviewed tips submitted through social media in real time during the shooting, according to an outside review of the university’s communications response to the shooting, which was never released publicly. That’s now been changed, DPPS spokesperson Dana Whyte said.

The 22-page review, conducted by higher education crisis management firm Blue Moon Consulting Group, or BMCG, was completed and shared internally in October 2023. The State News obtained the review through a public records request.

The review is separate from a broader audit of first responders and MSU’s emergency operations team’s response to the shooting, which was released publicly the same month.

BMCG found that MSU’s communications response was “effective, timely and transparent,” and “effectively protected MSU's reputation.” 

But it called the university’s then-policy to not actively monitor social media for tips during emergencies “concerning.”

“This is simply not how students — and even the larger community — communicates today, nor is it consistent with what we have observed at other institutions,” BMCG reported. “As a result, key information received through the Police Twitter page was not reviewed or analyzed to support the police.”

MSU told investigators the prior policy was made “based on available resources and historical protocols” and was “consistent with a long-standing tag that stated all tips should be called in,” according to the review.

Whyte said they didn’t realize how many messages they would be getting through their social media accounts.

While Whyte still encourages community members to call 911 or text their official, anonymous tip line, a member of MSU’s crisis communications team is now assigned to monitor tips in real-time during emergency situations.

“Now that we are aware that people will submit tips that way, we want to make sure that we're monitoring those moving forward,” Whyte said.

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