Sydney Contraguerro saw a friend get stabbed in the hallway of Franklin Regional High School on Wednesday. And then she turned to Twitter to figure out what was happening in the halls of her high school.
“I was checking Twitter every 15 minutes,” the high school senior said.
Twitter has long been a platform for people to share what they’ve witnessed during major news events: earthquakes, plane crashes, shootings. But in Murrysville, Twitter appeared to be a prime source of communication about who was OK and who was injured in the immediate aftermath of the stabbings. It was the parents who turned to Facebook to talk about the school shooting, offering a quick case study in how different generations use social media.
“My daughter has a Facebook account -- she hasn’t posted on it in seven months,” said Saundra Stupor, 40, whose high-schooler, Morgan, is a cheerleader.
Julia Nitchman, a sophomore at Franklin, was home with tonsillitis. But she woke up and started checking Twitter, as she does most mornings, and saw that something was up at school. In the first hours after the attack, students communicated on Twitter to pray for fellow students and to list names of the injured, even before officials had released a count to news media outlets.
“They just want to feel a part of what’s happening and then support each other,” said Pastor Dan Hertzler of Cornerstone Ministries, who follows many of the students on Twitter. Few of them use Facebook, he said.
“You really saw the community side of it there,” he said.
Of course, for some students, the use of Twitter and Instagram made them more visible to outsiders than protected Facebook pages. Though some of the students’ accounts can only be seen by approved followers, many are open to anyone.
Nate Scimio, posted an Instagram photo of himself, in a hospital gown, pointing to an arm wound. It got retweeted and picked up by media across the world. By the time he showed up to a prayer service at Cornerstone Ministries on Wednesday night, he was tired of the spotlight, and shied away from media at the service.
“It’s driving his parents nuts, because now everyone wants to talk to him,” said Hertzler.
Micala Myers, the girlfriend of one of the victims, garnered attention in social media early in the day and also rebuffed the media later.
“Please no more news reporters. I understand you all want the story but this is not the time not place. Thank you for all of your well wishes,” she wrote on Twitter.
So popular was Twitter for discussing the stabbings that someone made a fake account in the name of suspect Alex Hribal, complete with a photo of him. Hribal has been charged as an adult with attempted homicide and aggravated assault counts.
But students were quick to self-police, decrying the fake account and flagging another account that seemed to be reporting the stabbing was a hoax.
When off-color jokes started up on Twitter, Hertzler said students were quick to chastise the jokers and support each other. It is unclear whether Hribal had been bullied.
Some in the Murrysville community are hoping that social media can help troubled students. Hertzler said after a student committed suicide in October, leaving behind a trove of online journal entries no one knew about, he and others at Cornerstone Ministries decided they needed to try to reach out to youth.
They are working with a developer to launch an app as early as next month called "So" that allows students to use anonymous text messages, instant messaging, or other methods to talk to counselors if they are having problems.
“If you kind of think in the '90s, we used to have suicide hotlines,” he said. “Nowadays nobody talks, everybody texts. One of the things is having a place someone can go to get answers without the fear of stigma of revealing their identity.”
Parent worry that social media is used as a bullying tool in the schools. Stupor, who is the parent of four girls, says Snapchat, in which people send a text photo to each other that disappears after 20 seconds, is often used because there is no record. She’s trying to form a parental group that will put out guidelines for how social media is used in schools.
A report from investment firm Piper Jaffray, released this week, called Taking Stock With Teens, indicates that interest level in Facebook among teens went from 27% to 23% over the last six months. Instagram rose from 27% to 30%. Though Twitter use grew from spring of 2013 to fall of 2013, it dropped in the past six months, the survey suggests, from 31% to 27%.
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