Yet as a caring community began spreading the word of the death, those who did not know the details began filling them in from their imaginations.
Not only was the child’s family’s pain increased, but other families were filled with fear as rumors — completely baseless rumors, nothing more than lies, really — of a shooting at Nichols Lawson Middle bounced from cell phone to cell phone and were endlessly reposted on Facebook.
Sylacauga police were called to the child’s home around 11:30 Friday morning. An ambulance took him to the hospital, but doctors were unable to revive him. He had been a student at Nichols Lawson, but he was at home, not at school Friday.
It is easy to put together how the rumors might have begun. One person says to another, “Did you hear that a kid at Nichols Lawson died this morning?” In the next retelling, the story changes just slightly to, “Did you hear that a kid died at Nichols Lawson this morning?” Then, “No, what happened?” “I don’t know, probably a shooting.” “Oh my God! Somebody has a gun at the school? My sister, brother, son, daughter, or neighbor has kids in school there. I better warn them!”
Then it hits Facebook, and everyone who sees it feels a civic duty to spread the “news” to all their friends.
By 2:30 Friday afternoon, the police had fielded so many calls and seen so many of these bogus Facebook posts that they posted a plea on the department’s own Facebook page denying the rumors and asking people to stop spreading the false information “and worrying students, teachers, and family members.”
Wireless technology and social media have revolutionized communication to the point that everyone who wants one can have a podium and speak to hundreds or thousands of people. Everyone is a “reporter” these days. With the ability to reach a broad audience, however, comes an enormous responsibility to make sure that what you report is actually true.
We now carry around in our pockets the most powerful rumor-spreading media ever devised, but it is not the fault of the technology that this story made the rounds so quickly. The fault lies solely and heavily upon the shoulders of those people who told the story and embellished it without a thought for the pain their gossip would cause their neighbors.