What role does social media play in school shootings?

February 27, 2022

As time changes and technology evolves, so do threats to student safety. Nowadays, potential school shooters can be found lurking on social media and leaving key traces of their future intent behind. However, it appears that the infamy granted to such individuals also incentivizes their inflammatory language. This phenomenon was put on full display earlier this year, as police responded quickly to threats posed against Cherry Hill High Schools East and West.

A message circulating on Snapchat included vague threats against the safety of students attending school on December 14th, creating fear in the West student-community. Rather than go into lockdown, the Cherry Hill Public Schools district increased police presence at West due to Lt. John Moyer deeming the language of the threat as “generic” and non-credible. This instance follows a peculiar trend amongst certain teenagers on social media.

Later in that same week, police presence increased at East due to similar threats. A niche internet challenge which found home on the popular social media platform TikTok, dubbed the “Shoot Up Your School Challenge” and “National Shoot Up Your School Day,” impacted schools nationwide. Users posted threatening and inflammatory language, which consequently led to concern for student safety on December 17th at East. This came in direct succession to the recent school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, as well as the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Massacre, which occurred on December 12, 2012.

It appears that a certain sect of American teenagers view the recent flurry of school violence as a trend, which resulted in numerous instances of threatening language. While this impacted life in Cherry Hill, it has also extended further and troubled schools across the country.

However, the role of social media also has a notable history of immense benefit when it comes to combating school violence. Thousands have banded together to join the March for Our Lives movement, creating a space for young people to affect gun reform change while organizing online. Ryan Deitsch, a graduate and survivor from the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, recalled how after a school shooting occurs, he receives messages on Instagram from those affected via the March for Our Lives account.

“Social media is the double-edged sword of the modern age, with these direct messages bringing comfort and strength to those seeking ceasefire and message boards fueling the fire they wish to cease,” he wrote.

While there are obvious positives and obvious negatives, the role of social media in this issue does not seem to be going away any time soon. As the lives of everyday Americans become more entwined with technology, an organizational change in how dangerous acts are committed ought to be expected. Given this, society must continue to adapt to these evolutions, yet remain on high alert when threats arise.

“If you, or your children, have questions or concerns, please reach out to the school, or to the district, or to me directly,” wrote Superintendent Dr. Meloche. “Voicing concerns in this manner helps us all keep each other safe.”

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