The anatomy of a rumor: Fact checking Facebook
Debunked: DHS senior prank did not cause $100k in damages, students will still walk the stage for graduation.
DICKINSON — Social media has become an undeniable force with both positive and negative impacts on modern society. It is estimated that more than half of the global population uses social platforms to stay in touch with the world around them. Inevitably there are incidents where untrue, fabricated or false rumors concerning incidents circulating online can spread like wildfire, consume an entire community and cause concern.
That is exactly what happened in Dickinson on Friday, the day after some Dickinson High School seniors got a little rowdy with their senior prank.
In a post to the Facebook group, “Dickinson ND online classifieds and more,” a profile with the name Sarah Garcia posted a claim that Dickinson High School seniors had caused more than $100,000 worth of damage to property as part of their senior prank on Thursday night. She alleged that students who participated would be forbidden from walking at graduation.
The post, which elicited hundreds of reactions and generated a storm of public concern, was edited multiple times by the original poster. The original poster argued and defended their post with those leaving comments, further adding an air of legitimacy to the claims.
“So I just found out that some seniors went to the high school last night and were doing a ‘prank’ on the school. This was no prank they trashed the high school and from what I here from one of the teachers they did over 100000 in damages to the property. If your child attended they are not allowing them to walk graduation day. We need to hold our children accountable. This is not ok,” the post read.
That post was later deleted before a second post, repeating portions of the false assertions about graduation was again published. In the second post, Garcia included photos of toilet paper strung about a room and papers scattered across a floor.
In the second post Garcia said, “So I just found out that some seniors went to the high school last night and were doing a ‘prank’ on the school. This was no prank they trashed the high school and from what I here from one of the teachers they did quite a bit of damage. If that's true or not I don't know but there should have been no damage period. If your child attended they are not allowing them to walk graduation day is what is being said if this is true or not once again i don't know. We need to hold our children accountable. This is not ok. Here are a few pictures it don't look so bad to me but way out of line.”
Garcia's second post drew even more eyes, with numerous reactions, comments and shares turning it into one of the most talked about social media posts in Dickinson on Friday.
Before long the false claims had spread throughout the community, causing some parents concern that their child would not be permitted to walk the stage at graduation for a prank that was both known to faculty and staff prior to being performed and after being let into the school by the very same faculty and staff.
Dickinson Public Schools Superintendent Marcus Lewton addressed the claims in a phone conversation with the Press on Friday, calling them "false."
“As far as the costs that were thrown out there, I don’t know how... I’m guessing someone just came up with a number. The only damages that we found were to the gym floor. There were some scratches on the floor. Fortunately we resurface our floors every summer,” Lewton said. “But other than that they didn’t really find any damage, just typical senior prank stuff where they kind of make a mess.”
He said some of the students even came in this morning to help school staff with the cleanup, noting that the scratches occurred because students moved desks out to the middle of the basketball court.
According to Lewton, the incident is being investigated. When asked why, he explained that it’s standard procedure.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a school when you have to figure out what’s going on, but you have to investigate, interview people and whatnot,” he said. “Senior pranks have happened for as long as I can remember. We just need to make sure that what happens isn’t over the top.”
No students have been reprimanded over the incident, and Lewton said he’s proud of what he's witnessed with seniors making it right by helping with the cleanup.
“People sometimes want to use words like reprimand or punishment, but educators discipline. So the intent behind any action is to change behavior,” he said. “We’re just working with students to try and make the world a better place; and to try and give them the opportunity to make amends or right the wrong.”
Stopping the spread of misinformation saves a community many of the heartaches that accompany, including countless phone calls made to entities.
According to social media experts, one of the best ways to stop the spread of misinformation is to not engage with the disinformation, either through replying, reacting or sharing it. Social media platforms are designed to reward all engagement through the use of algorithms — often further perpetrating the spread.
To learn more about discerning legitimate news from questionable or fake sources, visit https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/primers/fake-news-primer/