Did social media tools let us down?

I’m a little surprised no one in my regular blogging circle is commenting on the Virginia Tech massacre. I know the story is still unfolding, but I spotted this piece in Wired. The article is about the need for next-generation emergency alert systems, but a few paragraphs spoke to me:

As the carnage unfolded, eyewitnesses IM’d terrifying firsthand accounts to their friends, some of which appeared on blogs and MySpace within minutes of the shootings. Yet students complained that the first official word they heard about a killer on campus came a full two hours after two students were shot to death in a nearby dorm, just as their suspected attacker opened fire again in an academic building on the other side of campus.


Why, given the ubiquity of SMS-enabled cell phones and the growing popularity of social networking and communication tools like Twitter and dodgeball.com, did it take so long for news to reach students that class had been canceled and that students should stay in their dorm rooms?

A few weeks ago, the blogosphere was giddily publishing the widespread popularity of Twitter at SXSW. How is it possible that Virginia TECH students were so uninformed?

Author: Susan Scrupski

Longtime fan of technology to improve humanity.

5 thoughts on “Did social media tools let us down?”

  1. Hi Mike, I have a teenage daughter who is college bound in the next few years. She is more connected electronically to her friends than I could ever hope to be (or maybe want to be). She does not use Twitter either, but it escapes me how this tragedy could have fallen into the black hole of silence (especially given the time lapse)… given the social media tools this generation depends on for everyday activity. There must be more to it I’m not seeing. Thanks for dropping by. Susan.

  2. Susan, I have talked to several educational institutions on sync/async communication and they struggle with notifications to students (cancelled classes and such). While students receive an e-mail account, many students rarely check it, prefering to keep their own e-mail accounts as their primary inbox. The same goes for IM accounts. Students use multiple online services. This fragments the problem across AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!. Students often also have different cell phone carriers (Verizon, AT&T, etc) and schools are not always kept current on what changes students make to personal cell phone services – some students may not want to share their personal cell phone numbers as well. Not all campus environments have good reception either (for instance, I cannot call my daugher on her cell in her dorm, she needs to be out on campus somewhere). Finally, not everyone is aware of Twitter (or similar tools). I have asked various friends of my daughter’s (around 20 so not scientific at all) and they had not heard of it or had not tried it.

    I don’t disagree with the need for a student alerting system, but unfortunately it is not as easy as it sounds given the diversity of what people might be using. That said, there should be a manageable way to contact all campus employees (via e-mail or an SMS alert) since a school can dictate communication tools and procedures for staff use.

Comments are closed.