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Social Media and its Grip on University Students

October 13, 2014

I consider myself an active member of what I like to call, “Generation 5 Minutes Ago.”  We are those who don’t possess the patience to wait 3 minutes for a Netflix movie to load or for our computers to connect to the Internet, and we are also those individuals who do not like waiting to hear about breaking news.

We are the ones who get our news, not from the paper or TV, but from Twitter and Facebook.  If we don’t know the answer to a pressing question, we “Google It” and are given an immediate response.  

The University of Alabama recently shut down and searched its Tutwiler Hall after reports of an anonymous threat against the women in that dorm surfaced on YouTube.  Campus police learned of the threat through the parents of a student at the University and responded quickly, but students were not given details of the event until after midnight, nearly two hours after the students learned of the situation online.

I think that is why the students living at Tutwiler Hall and members of the Greek system at the University of Alabama became so inflamed.  Being members of Generation 5 Minutes Ago, it was hard for them to understand why it took so long to receive details concerning a threat that was very real for them, even if the threat of present danger ended up being unfounded.

There is a real generational gap between students and school officials when it comes to technology and how students access news.  Students rely on real-time streaming of news and information, and those from different generations have not quite grasped how quickly students can grab news alerts. That’s not to say they aren’t working on it or aren’t providing for student needs as quickly as possible. In my experience, schools genuinely want to keep students as informed and safe as possible, but perhaps school officials lack the manpower to do just that, as effectively as we would like. 

When I was an undergraduate student, my school was testing a new technologically-based system that would send text messages to students alerting the student body to present dangers, such as fire drills, earthquakes, and if the school is placed on a locked-down alert.

At times, the text messages were annoying to students, especially for things like fire drills, and the ever present earthquakes. But when these alerts were really needed, like in 2012 when the school was placed on lock down because of an armed robber loose on campus, it suddenly became amazing to know that our school made the best use of technology to alert students immediately to the danger and to what was going on. We felt like the school was doing its part to keep us aware of the situations in our way: by taking advantage of the fact that students are always glued to our phones, computers, and other technology. 

I can see that this might also be a double-edged sword in that police and school officials probably don’t want to stir panic unnecessarily.  This is probably why the University of Alabama held off saying anything to students for two hours, while they extended a 45 minute search resulting in no indication of weapons or danger.  

If I were a student at the University of Alabama, I would personally rather get my information, via technology or press release, from police and school officials than have to find out online or on my own. When left to my own devices, I will always jump to the worst-case scenario; and this generally happens for most students who find bits and pieces of the news on social media, making judgments on the situation without having the full truth on the situation.  At least if the information came from the school, officials could set the stage to quell the fears of students and parents, rather than leave them speculating online.  Additionally, for a member of Generation 5 Minutes Ago, waiting is the worst form of torture that could be inflicted upon us, especially waiting for news that will directly affect us in an adverse way. End point: find a way to take advantage of alerting us to news in the quickest and most effective way possible. 

Students on the University of Alabama’s campus are still expressing fear over recent threats to school security.  This situation is another tribute to the power that social media has for those of us who grew up in the Internet age.  Students of this generation are information-hungry, and school officials and police across universities should address our needs, particularly in attempting to get a school’s internal temperature back to normal.