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Wise school officials worry that animosity on social media affects safety

December 18th, 2013 9:47 pm by Stephen Igo

Wise school officials worry that animosity on social media affects safety

WISE — Rancor on social media is a growing concern for Wise County school division officials at the vanguard of ensuring school safety, and county law enforcement agencies charged with the responsibility of sniffing out and stopping potentially violent situations.

Wise County Schools Superintendent Jeff Perry said ill-chosen words implanted in anger or frustration by folks using social media to share those remarks could — and in fact, have — answered the door to officers of the law investigating a potential threat.

“Over the last several months the school division, and I think all of our local law enforcement agencies, have been drawn into several situations where various individuals using Facebook, Twitter or other social media to exchange ideas and communication — and some of those are fine and very helpful — but there are those who made a number of threatening remarks toward each other, or school officials, or threatening comments toward other children or other parents, and made some kind of reference to some kind of violence happening at school,” Perry said Tuesday.

“We need to make everyone understand, and make it clear, that when you place a threatening comment on a social comment venue, that is going to get a response from school officials and law enforcement. While we have freedom of expression, individuals just need to be extremely careful to avoid crossing over into a shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater sort of situation.” 

During the course of the year, Perry said, “we have had several individuals get visits late in the evening or very early in the morning” from police officers inquiring into social media postings.

“We are just asking people to be very conscientious. If you post something on a social networking page it is no longer a private conversation,” he said. Angry words can and have “tied up resources of our law enforcement agencies, resources of our schools, and creates anxiety and stress on everyone involved,” Perry said.

The school division most recently had to deal with a social media threat that started with the lowest tech, lowest denominator social media of all: an implied threat to the administrators of one of the county high schools scrawled on a bathroom wall.

For an expanded version of this article, please see Thursday's print edition or our expanded electronic edition.

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