As social media continues to change how we consume information, it’s important to realise how it can be used during a major event.
When a major incident happens, information spreads quickly and its possible that attacks, natural disasters and major incidents will trend on social media before full details have emerged in the news.
You should be aware that details and images may be shared live as they are happening- which can be distressing for anyone watching, particularly young people.
In 2019, 50 people were killed in the Christchurch shootings. The incident was live streamed on Facebook. The 17-minute video was viewed 4,000 times before it was removed.
2022 school shooting in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas claimed the lives of 19 students and 2 teachers, wounding many others in the process. A year before the shooting the shooter, was given the nickname the “School Shooter” on social media platforms due to violent threats he would make against other users. He then planned the terrible event over Facebook Messenger. Meta claimed the messaged were only discovered after the tragedy occurred.
Top Tips for Social Media During Traumatic Events:
- Have regular discussions with young people about stories in the news and what they should do if they see something online that upsets them.
- When events like these appear in the news, explain to young people why they should stay offline for a few hours, or stick to games rather than social media.
- Make sure ‘sensitivity’ filters are enabled. This will limit but not stop graphic content being shown without warning.
- Be aware of false information- be sure to only share information from credible sources.
- Avoid naming or sharing photos of attackers or methods used.
Children under 5
Younger children are less likely to be exposed to online content or conversations in the playground about traumatic events. But it’s still important to know how to approach these delicate subjects with them, should you choose to.
Young minds can distort what they hear or see, especially when they receive the information indirectly, like over hearing conversations from adults or older children. You should be mindful of live coverage of news reports which might be distressing for younger children.
Talking about helpers, heroes, emergency services and the protections the government makes is important. It’s important to alleviate any fears younger children have. They may ask questions about something bad happening to them. Focusing on why they are safe can help soothe any anxiety or worry they may have.
Primary School Children
Should you shield them from the news?
You may be able to shield them from news at home, but you can’t control what they are exposed to at school, or in the playground. You don’t need to give them all of the facts; just enough information to complete a story around a difficult event by clarifying facts and correcting misperceptions. It’s important to reassure them of their safety and give them the opportunity to ask any questions.
Pay Attention to Your Own Reactions
You may be able to shield them from news at home, but you can’t control what they are exposed to at school, or in the playground. You don’t need to give them all of the facts, just enough information to complete a story around a difficult event by clarifying facts and correcting misperceptions. It’s important to reassure them of their safety and give them the opportunity to ask any questions.
Reassure Them of Their Safety
Traumatic events can be upsetting for children because they may imagine something similar happening to them, or to people they know. If they do begin to ask questions, use phrases such as:
- These events are very rare, and security will be tight to stop it happening again.
- The police work really hard. There are some smart people protecting us from danger.
- We live in a safe place. If you feel scared, you can always come talk to me.
It’s almost impossible to shield older children form the news about traumatic events, but you can show them the control they have in managing what they see and how they react.
Older children can be skilled at finding information quickly, and may come across news reports, live broadcasts and live reporting on social media. Talk to them about how live content covering news stories can be unpredictable and graphic content may be spread quickly on social media.
Use open ended questions to explore how they feel about what’s happened, such as: “How do you feel/what do you think about what happened?”. Be available to young people so they can discuss what happened and ask any questions.
Control your emotions, remember young people will look to you for guidance on how they should react.
Reassure them by:
- Focussing on how traumatic events are rare.
- Explaining there’s lots of work going on behind the scenes to keep things safe.
- Stating that even though these events are scary and sad, it’s not likely to happen to them, and give them some reassuring advice on what to do if it did happen?