Last month, Northern Illinois University police investigated a potential threat circulating on social media.
The university sent a late-night “community awareness message” telling students and staff the threat wasn’t credible. But many NIU students had already seen the rumors online and were not satisfied with the university’s short response.
That morning, November 18, Kaitlyn Frisby woke up to Facebook and Twitter reactions about the situation from her classmates -- questions like: How long did they talk to the person? Are they in police custody?
Frisby is a psychology major at NIU. She didn’t have class that day but knew people who chose not to go to campus.
She felt the alert from NIU was vague and impersonal. In it, officials said NIU police investigated social media reports of an alleged threat of violence against campus. It said police contacted the individuals involved and determined that there is no credible threat or need for concern.
“I think that type of scenario should be taken with more emotion and more [attention] to the students' feelings and not seem so robotic,” said Frisby.
Frisby was one of dozens of NIU students to take to social media to voice her displeasure with the situation.
“I just wanted to, like, understand if am I just freaking out or does everybody else feel the same way? And I got a lot of messages after that, like, ‘Yes, I feel the same,’” she said.
Other students wrote on social media about classes being cancelled and normally-congested parking lots being suddenly more open.
NIU’s Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Kelly Wesener Michael, followed up with an email clarifying that there was no threat and highlighted student services available.
“Please know that if a threat were present, the campus would have been immediately notified and instructed on safety measures,” said Wesener Michael.
“Understandably, we live in a time when violence on school campuses is a reality. We also know that social media posts can be interpreted in a variety of ways, have an unintended impact, and can fuel rumors and accusations.”
Frisby decided to go to class the next day but, even then, decided to leave early after seeing the NIU memorial remembering lives lost during a 2008 campus shooting.
“I walk past that every day I'm on campus, and it’s just like, wow, that actually happened,” she said. “So I actually passed that and then I was like, ‘You know what, I'm going to go home.’ I didn't go to my last class.”
A spokesman for the university declined an interview and said officials are assessing their response to the situation right now and devising ways to better handle rumor control.
Students like Frisby say they’re asking for more details and transparency from the university when they get a notification involving a potential threat.