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Distress and rumor exposure on social media during a campus lockdown

Jones, Nickolas M ; Thompson, Rebecca R ; Dunkel Schetter, Christine ; Silver, Roxane Cohen

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2017, Vol.114(44), p.11663-11668 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

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  • Title:
    Distress and rumor exposure on social media during a campus lockdown
  • Author/Creator: Jones, Nickolas M ; Thompson, Rebecca R ; Dunkel Schetter, Christine ; Silver, Roxane Cohen
  • Subjects: Social Sciences ; Rumor ; Crisis Event ; Twitter ; Lockdown ; Social Media
  • Is Part Of: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2017, Vol.114(44), p.11663-11668
  • Description: Significance During active shooter events when danger is imminent and official information is disseminated inconsistently, ambiguity is high. In these situations, individuals may seek information from unofficial channels (e.g., social media), thereby exposing themselves to unverified information and rumors. In a study of students caught in a university-wide lockdown, we found that those who relied on social media for updates reported increased exposure to conflicting information. Moreover, those who trusted what they read reported greater distress. Then, using a big-data analysis of Twitter data spanning ∼5 hours surrounding the event, we demonstrated that rumor transmission tracks with community-level negative emotion during gaps in official communication. Officials should monitor social media channels to mitigate the negative impact of rumors during collective traumas. During crisis events, people often seek out event-related information to stay informed of what is happening. However, when information from official channels is lacking or disseminated irregularly, people may be at risk for exposure to rumors that fill the information void. We studied information-seeking during a university lockdown following an active-shooter event. In study 1, students in the lockdown ( n = 3,890) completed anonymous surveys 1 week later. Those who indicated receiving conflicting information about the lockdown reported greater acute stress [standardized regression coefficient ( b ) = 0.07; SE = 0.01; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.04, 0.10]. Additionally, those who reported direct contact with close others via text message (or phone) and used Twitter for critical updates during the lockdown were exposed to more conflicting information. Higher acute stress was reported by heavy social media users who trusted social media for critical updates ( b = 0.06, SE = 0.01; 95% CI, 0.03, 0.10). In study 2, we employed a big data approach to explore the time course of rumor transmission across 5 hours surrounding the lockdown within a subset of the university’s Twitter followers. We also examined the patterning of distress in the hours during the lockdown as rumors about what was happening (e.g., presence of multiple shooters) spread among Twitter users. During periods without updates from official channels, rumors and distress increased. Results highlight the importance of releasing substantive updates at regular intervals during a crisis event and monitoring social media for rumors to mitigate rumor exposure and distress.
  • Identifier: ISSN: 0027-8424 ; E-ISSN: 1091-6490 ; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1708518114 ; PMCID: 5676907 ; PMID: 29042513