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On social media, speculation can run wild; seek trusted sources of information

The digital age and the addition of so many social media channels has created a significant challenge in effectively communicating with our stakeholders.

Our focus, historically, was on relaying accurate information efficiently. Today, our challenge extends to combating the rash of misinformation that permeates our community specifically through social media.

Remember a little more than 10 years ago before the saturation of smartphones? During a crisis, our focus was on media sources. We received information from the authorities when such information was confirmed and verified through those sources. At that time, there was little speculation by media news anchors speculating what might have happened. Only verified facts were reported.

Today, our media competes with 68 percent of U.S. adults who carry a smartphone and become quasi reporters without concern for accuracy. If it is heard or thought, it is reported. We’ve become a generation that must know immediately any and all information around any school-related situation, regardless of its accuracy. A whole different world has been created for those of us in public service. We find ourselves spending more time counteracting misinformation that often has greater impact on our children than the actual crisis.

Our community has become so familiar with death by suicide; there is an immediate assumption when anyone passes away prematurely that it must involve suicide. Recently, one of our students passed away in an unusual accident. Tragically, reporting of suicide was rampant. I can’t imagine being a parent when social media avenues report inaccurate facts in a time of grief. Sadly, while perhaps not creating the misinformation, more and more people share unreliable reports, thereby adding credibility and joining the misinformation campaign.

A few weeks ago, a report of a threat at Durango High School permeated social media channels. All reports are taken seriously by our district and our local law enforcement agencies. When any threat is received, all agencies jump into action 24/7/365. While students can certainly say things that may be threatening in nature, the spoken word and one’s interpretation of what someone says does not always match the ability, intent and means to carry out a threat. Know that any such utterance of a threat is grounds for discipline and the district takes it seriously.

Despite the investigations and the outcomes arrived at by the district and law enforcement, it doesn’t change the sharing of “tall tales.” In the last couple of weeks, parents have accused the district of lying because the facts shared didn’t match the rumors they or their children heard. We find more and more that the judge and jury is the unfounded social media feed instead of the facts from trusted sources.

In last week’s tragedy in Aztec, the speculation within our own community was out of control. The misinformation our children received from adult sources through cellphones and social media channels created heightened levels of fear and anxiety. We can’t become entrenched in the “share it now and verify later” mentality.

The school district has no reason to provide false information. Our partnership with law enforcement is strong in Durango. Accurate information will be shared when it is available, and it will be done in a way that protects our children. We will not be party to the rumor mill or spreading fear. We will refuse to circulate information that hasn’t been verified. We will take every threat seriously, take appropriate precautions in partnership with authorities and investigate each threat or concern thoroughly. As a parent, my focus on safety and security in our schools is as heightened as anyone’s in these troubling times.

I encourage members of our community to not play into spreading false information. It is of utmost importance that we practice our ability to be patient and get the accurate story when all the facts are in. The negative impact on our children and our community is enormous when we choose to do otherwise.

In closing, I ask your continued support of our neighbors in Aztec and the Aztec High School team of staff and students. We are all #AztecStrong while we keep their community in our thoughts and prayers during these difficult times.

Email Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger at dsnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.