A Closer Look

Social Media and Crisis Intervention: Opportunity and Danger

Over 70% of Americans use some form of social media every day (Pew Research Center, 2019). As a result of this trend, when a school associated crisis occurs, it has become expected that schools will use social media to disseminate information. In addition, we should expect that today's students and their caregivers will use social media to connect with each other.

In the past schools tried to control student use of social media. Today, however, we have noted an increasing realization that such efforts are futile. Instead we now suggest that schools should be asking how they can manage or guide the use of social media, and that they do so in a way that increases its benefits and minimizes its challenges. From our own observations and research (Brock et al., 2016), the following are some of social media's opportunities and dangers.

Opportunities

  • Disseminating crisis facts. Social media can provide crisis event facts in real time to help promote adaptive responses to threatening situations and to help mitigate physical and emotional harm. Effective dissemination of these facts also helps facilitate understanding of the crisis event, which is typically the first step in the road to recovery.

  • Connecting to others. In times of crisis, social media can be a powerful tool for reestablishing the naturally occurring social supports that are essential to crisis recovery. Reconnecting with trusted and familiar people, in person or virtually, can reestablish a semblance of normalcy and provide comfort. This is particularly true following natural disasters. During these crises, social media can facilitate connections to social supports even when the disaster dislocates community members.

  • Promoting psychological triage. Social media can be an effective way to disseminate information regarding traumatic stress risk factors and warning signs, and to help identify persons in need of mental health crisis intervention services. It can be a powerful tool for delivering psychological education-which is educating those impacted about the facts, reactions they may have, and coping strategies-as well as helping to identify those in need of additional crisis intervention supports.

  • Connecting to crisis recovery resources. Social media can also help to direct students and their families to appropriate and available resources. It can provide information regarding school schedules or when school will resume. Reconnecting students with each other and with their teachers helps to restore a sense of community, and a predicable schedule helps students feel safe and secure.

Dangers

  • Reduces face to face contact. While helpful in situations where students cannot get back to school and reconnect with teachers and peers, social media is problematic when it replaces available face to face contact and supports.

  • Lacks adult supervision. Especially with adolescents, peers are an important source of social support and emotional processing. When such is provided virtually, there is not the same ability to ensure that the support being provided is prosocial and adaptive.

  • Spreads crisis rumors. While a quick way to get crisis facts out, the ability to control what information is consumed by school community members is limited. Schools must monitor social media, assertively identify rumors, and use their own social media platforms to correct inaccurate postings.

  • Includes traumatizing images. The open nature of social media increases the quantity and sensationalism of the trauma images consumed by students. Constant replays of disturbing traumatic event images on a student's personal device can lead to increased anxiety and fears. As a result, adults should monitor and, as indicated, limit access to social media.

  • Increases stress. Social media can be a mechanism for inflicting trauma on students via cyberbullying. Schools should ensure that students know how to report such trauma, and schools must take reports of such peer victimization seriously. If these reports are not addressed, it can lead to an increase in suicidal depression and suicidal ideation. Schools can also help students manage the negative social media posts, and they should help direct students to those sites and resources which promote positive coping and build a sense of community.

References

Brock, S. E., Nickerson, A. B., Reeves, M. A. L., Conolly, C. N., Jimerson, S. R., Pesce, R. C., & Lazzaro, B. R. (2016). School crisis prevention and intervention: The PREPaRE model (2nd ed.). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists. Pew Research Center. (2019). Share of U.S. adults using social media, including Facebook, is mostly unchanged since 2018. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/10/share-of-u-s-adults-using-social-media-including-facebook-is-mostly-unchanged-since-2018/

About the Author

necessary Stephen E. Brock, PhD, NCSP, LEP and Melissa A. Reeves, PhD, NCSP, LPC
Stephen E. Brock, PhD, NCSP, LEP, is a Professor and the School Psychology Program Coordinator at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS). He worked for 18 years as a school psychologist before joining the CSUS faculty in 2001. As a school psychologist, he helped develop his district’s school crisis response protocols. He is a NASP past president, member of NASP’s School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, a lead author of the PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention curriculum, and lead editor of Best Practices in School Crisis Prevention.

Melissa A. Reeves, PhD, NCSP, LPC is an Associate Professor at Winthrop University (Rock Hill, SC). She is a NASP past president, a nationally certified school psychologist, a licensed professional counselor, and a licensed special education teacher with over 19 years of experience working in schools. Dr. Reeves is a lead author of the PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention curriculum and a member of NASP’s School Safety and Crisis Response Committee. She has special expertise in the areas of threat and suicide assessment, traumatic stress, and cognitive–behavioral interventions.