Lexi Phillips, associate editor of PULSE, was sitting at home after a long day of classes when she received a distressed call from a friend leaving campus. Shortly after the call ended, she saw the email alert and tweet saying: “There has been a report of an active shooter in the area of Lind Hall on @CWUWashU Ellensburg Campus. Stay out of the area.”
PULSE’s Social Media Coordinator, Molly Nutt, was upstairs in the gym doing yoga when over 60 other students were rushed in a room to hunker down for two hours until being cleared to leave the building by the police.
Editor-in-Chief and author of the article, Bailee Wicks, had to close up the Wildcat Shop and calm customers for an hour before being escorted out of the Student Union and Recreation Center by the SWAT team.
For three hours family, friends, alumni, students and staff waited to hear the outcome of the news that put the whole campus in a frenzy. Social media played a large role in helping spread information whether it was correct or not.
On the night of Feb. 6, reports of a possible active shooter spread to all CWU students and faculty, then later notified all of Kittitas County. After the first tweet was sent at 5:58 p.m., the news spread quickly ranging from students checking in to let their families know that they are safe to tweeting things in hysteria. Over a hundred tweets went out that night covering the incident and many of them contained misinformation.
At the time of the published tweet and alerts, junior Kyle Wilkinson was at the gym and did not have his phone on him. “I scooted around to several people in my area,” says Wilkinson.
“I asked them for the details they had heard about the report. Almost everyone was scrolling through their Twitter feeds, constantly updating the page to receive the most recent information.”
Senior Clinical Physiology major Kendall Lay was not on campus during the incident but still felt the ramifications of the potential threat from her duplex. “I was waiting for responses from my friends, coworkers and roommates so I knew if they were okay or not,” she recalls. “I couldn’t focus on anything until I knew they were safe.”
Skylar Jenson-Hampton felt as though the tweets made matters worse. ”Social media caused rumors, and people who were stuck in lock-down confused and worse about the situation overall,” says Jenson-Hampton. “Nobody knew what to think or do.”
Central Washington University published an all-clear tweet at 7:26 p.m. before the police scanner stated campus was safe. The tweet read, “UPDATE: No confirmed shots, no known suspects and no suspect has been found. University police reported that all buildings have been secured and the campus is safe and all-clear.”
Although the situation was deemed a hoax, for many of the students involved, it did not feel like one.
“I was left confused, and in the dark about what really happen and how this all transpired,”
Although a tool of mass information, social media can cause situations to spiral out of control and cause ‘fake news’ or misinformation to spread nation-wide.
University President James L. Gaudino said wrapped it up in his ‘Emergency Response Update’ published 36 hours after the incident. “Inevitably, social-media included gossip and speculation to explain the events.”