What happens when you mix schools and social media?

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Schools and social media can be a toxic mix, as the Abbotsford school district learned this week…

I went out of town to teach a workshop earlier this week. Following the event, I ended up having dinner with a school administrator. “Let me ask you this,” she said to me, when she learned I was a communications specialist. “The last time we had a school lockdown, we had a big problem with social media. What do you suggest we do?”

The subject arose because of a same-day incident in Abbotsford, B.C. — a city adjacent to Greater Vancouver — where two students were knifed. Tragically, one of them was killed. Almost as disturbingly, another student had recorded the attack on a cell phone, and posted the video to social media. It was then broadcast by some TV stations. I cannot imagine the grief those parents endured and how much worse it was made by the recording.

But for teachers, it’s exceptionally difficult to control social media. I suggested to the administrator that schools should have a “stay calm” message on its website, with practical details for parents, such as where to pick up their students, when possible. They can then tweet a link to the site or provide a hotlink via Facebook.

And, in the throes of a situation like the one at Abbotsford school, I’d also suggest that teachers collect cell phones from students, if they can do so safely. What 16-year-old can resist being the one to break a big story?  Don’t give them that opportunity, if you can avoid it.