Last week, the Yankton area dealt with two situations involving school threats. One incident happened at Yankton High School while the other involved the Gayville-Volin school in Gayville.

Fortunately, these threats — whatever they were or weren’t — were diffused before anything serious might have happened. The official information on these incidents remains sketchy at this point.

But last week’s situations put a spotlight on how these events are handled, or more precisely, how the flow of information can and can’t be contained.

In Gayville, the incident occurred early in the day Wednesday and a suspect was apprehended a short time later. However, there was still a lot of chatter about the situation on social media, emails and texts.

The Yankton incident actually occurred sometime Tuesday and an arrest was made, but official word was not conveyed to parents/public until Wednesday just as the Gayville situation was unfolding, which was a terrible coincidence. Prior to the announcement, word had spread on social media, as it frequently does. When the school informed the public early Wednesday about the matter (especially with the Gayville-Volin situation serving as a backdrop), this, too, spread like wildfire via social media posts and emails. Reportedly, some parents pulled their kids from the Yankton school for the day.

This points to an issue that school officials and law enforcement — and, in fact, most everyone else who must deal directly with these situations — are forced to confront more aggressively these days: Word disseminates through various methods of communication that are now at the public’s convenient disposal, and as a result, that instant, viral news sometimes gets out ahead of the official statements, especially when the situation involves high school students.

However, the non-official info is not always accurate. Rumors and assumptions can also spread and be distorted in the exact same manner. And for people yearning for information on an incident, especially if they are directly impacted by it, any piece of news — even if it’s erroneous — has a compelling currency and the possibility that it might be true.

We’ve all seen this play out many times before, both here and elsewhere: An incident occurs and efforts are made to control the situation as much as possible, which means controlling the flow of information while an event is ongoing or an investigation is proceeding. But information (whether it’s factual or inaccurate) is an almost uncontainable commodity anymore, and people are always eager to “fill in the blanks” where silence exists — and filling empty information spaces with SOMETHING has become awfully easy. (It’s also easy to use that technology to purposely create fear, but that’s another, unfortunate matter for another time.)

Obviously, this is easy for us to say, but we can only urge those officials who must deal with these situations to try to stay ahead of the news curve as much as possible by communicating with the public/media in a timely manner and providing regular updates. It’s probably not simple or ideal, especially amid an ongoing situation, but it would be the best way to at least partially diffuse the undeveloped information and inaccuracies that tend to explode during these situations.

We understand and appreciate the difficulties local officials face already, but a more proactive communications approach does seem better than letting matters snowball as word cascades across eager digital grapevines.

kmh

‘Situations’ And Communication

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