Social media’s key role in US university shooting

Updated on April 17, 2007

Yesterday’s tragedy at Virginia Tech University in the US, where some 33 people were ruthlessly murdered, is unquestionably shocking (and I offer my own sympathies to the families of those killed and injured).

The media worldwide is all over this still-breaking story, as you would expect, as are many blogs (it’s currently the number one search term on Technorati).

One aspect of this awful event which I have found especially interesting relates to communication.

While there is some reporting that students have accused the authorities of failing to alert them quickly enough to the danger, it’s clear that social media – ranging from blogs, social networks such as Facebook and good old-fashioned mobile phones – were quickly and effectively used by students (especially) to find out and communicate what was happening.

From Information Week early today:

Virginia Tech students and staff reported on what appeared to be the deadliest shooting on a U.S. college campus as it unfolded, using blogs, social networking sites, podcasts, and cell phones to do it.

With their Web server down, contributors to the campus newspaper the Collegiate Times filed blog entries on their parent company’s Web site beginning at 9:47 a.m. as they attempted to confirm information about two Monday morning university shootings, which left at least 22 people dead and many more injured. ABC reported 29 dead by Monday afternoon.

[…] Students and faculty communicated with each other during the crisis through instant messaging and e-mail. A student captured the sound of several gunshots on campus. By the afternoon, the university had posted a podcast of statements from its president, Charles Steger.

A simple example, albeit under tragic circumstances, of how social media is now just part of the overall communication mix.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Elizabeth Book's Integration Watch

    Awesome Podcast With Web 2.0 Pioneer Neville Hobson…

    As you know, I am very interested in Web 2.0 technologies and am watching closely the ideas being batted around by the leaders and visionaries in this space. To that end, I’d like to strongly recommend the podcast I heard……

  2. michael clendenin

    Hi Neville,

    Left a message on the FIR comment line today re: show #230…well, 1 1/2 messages as I drove into a valley and lost cell signal. Please feel free to discard the first 1/2 message there.

    But to the point of this post, I’d actually like to ask a related question. I saw it mentioned in Tim O’Keefe’s Content Matters blog that the univerisity’s website was down for some time the day of the event preventing people from getting to critical information being posted there by the university administration. It called to my mind the importance of creating and maintaining a dark site. I’m looking to establish one for my company but haven’t been able to find much in the way of good examples or best practices. Perhaps you or your readers here could help point me in the right direction or would be willing to share their own dark sites.

    michael clendenin

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