Students Turn to Social Networking Sites for Info

ByABC News
April 16, 2007, 4:02 PM

April 16, 2007— -- E-mail, cell phones and social networking sites became invaluable tools Monday as students and school administrators at Virginia Tech frantically tried to communicate with one another after the early-morning shootings on campus.

Word of the shootings and a warning to stay inside spread throughout the campus by e-mail and automated voice mails.

"A shooting incident occurred earlier this morning. Police are on the scene and are investigating," the e-mail said, according to Alex Mengel, a student at the school. "The university community is urged to be cautious and contact VT police if you observe anything suspicious or with any information on the case."

Mengel told ABC News that she has been using the social networking site to stay in contact with her friends because "it's hard to get in touch with people by phone."

There was a major lag in time between that first e-mail at 9:26 a.m. and others that gave students a better idea of the severity.

Thirty minutes after the first message, a second one warned student to "stay put." Nearly an hour later, a third e-mail said classes were canceled and told students to lock their doors.

It wasn't until 10:52 a.m. that students were told about "multiple shootings," according to summaries passed on by a student.

Anna Woodford, a sophomore at the school, told ABC News that she was still in her room and "we got all the e-mails before I had to go to class."

She reported that the Internet, e-mail and phone lines were very clogged.

Jeffrey T. Hancock, a professor of communications at Cornell University, said such networking sites are important because they allow you "to get in touch with the people who are in your social network and matter the most."

Hancock said the university could have done a better job in its e-mail to students but "it probably reflects the school's lack of information."

He said he imagines that the administration at the school was also having trouble understanding what was happening, but that they still probably could have done a better job of communicating with students.

Josh Wargo, an engineering student told ABC that he got the e-mails "but my impression was it was prank or nothing serious."

For Michelle Billman, student general manager of WUVT the campus radio station, news came through a text message.

"The only reason we knew was because someone got a text message. No one was there saying, 'This is what's going on.'"

With the systems jammed, many people turned to social networking sites to try to connect with friends, family and loved ones.