Notifications

Social media fanned anxiety around MUN shooting

Memorial University officials say social media played a big role in creating the panic surrounding a shooting incident that happened Tuesday on the St. John's campus.

University official says bad information on Twitter contributed to 'hysteria'

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers searched for evidence outside the Field House on Memorial University's St. John's campus. (CBC)

Memorial University officials say social media played a big role in creating the panic surrounding a shooting incident that happened Tuesday on the St. John's campus.

The shooting occurred in the parking lot of Memorial's Field House on Westerland Road around 7 p.m. Plainclothes officers – conducting surveillance in the parking lot – tried to arrest a man who was allegedly breaking into cars.

Justin Michael Chipman is facing 14 counts including assault with a weapon, assaulting a peace officer, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, theft, possession of stolen property and property damage.
Justin Michael Chipman, 26, is accused of getting into a stolen SUV and then speeding away, when an RNC officer fired a weapon. The RNC has not disclosed whether the stolen vehicle was coming toward officers.

Many people learned about the incident on Twitter and Facebook, which school officials said underscores the power, and the drawbacks, of social media.

"Anytime you have the words 'shots' and 'campus' in a sentence, it's a concern," said David Sorensen, manager of communications at the university.

"We take the safety of our students, our faculty, staff and visitors very seriously, so it was a bit of a shock to see that."

Sorensen said there were some tense moments for university officials, and students were kept inside the sports complex until police were confident there was no risk to the public.

According to Sorensen, some of the messages on social media weren't helpful, so university officials used Twitter in an effort to make sure people weren't getting bad information.

"It was a social media event in many ways and we tried to respond appropriately. We have some 15,000 Twitter followers and [we didn't want to] contribute to the hysteria around this incident," said Sorensen.

Sorensen said MUN only tweeted information confirmed by the police.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.