Monday, January 16, 2006

Online Rumor Empties Warren High School

Recently, I posted about a rumor on my blog Communication Overtones that led to the second tragedy at Sago Mine which left family members believing that their loved ones were alive when indeed they were not. This rumor was thought to be spread primarily by cellphone.

There are also many more examples of how rumor can make a huge impact in a crisis event.

At the PRSA San Antonio monthly luncheon on January 5, 2005, Pascual Gonzalez, principal spokesperson for the Northside Independent School District and the San Antonio chapter’s PR Professional of the Year, gave a crowd of over 60 PR practioners an idea of how pervasive a rumor can be.

In early October (before I was a blogger), a rumor posted at the popular social networking site warned of an imminent shooting at Warren High School in San Antonio, Texas.

The school was effectively shut down for two days because many of its 3,000 students refused to return.

I live behind the school, so I followed the story with some interest.

A handful of students were believed to be involved with the spread of the rumor. However, there wasn't a real threat – just some influential kids talking.

This shows us that a very few influential people, in this case a “handful” of students with a myspace web page (which includes a blog and linking capabilities through its “My Friend Space”), can move an entire population of 3,000 students and their parents to take immediate action.

This is also a good case study of the power of social media.

Not to keep harping on the Tipping Point, but this is Gladwell’s “rule of the few” in action.

The school successfully worked with to get the rumor taken off of the site.

Here is the story and the editorial about this incident at the San Antonio Express-News.

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