Facebook, Twitter and text messages kept UT students informed

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    As students started their Tuesday morning, many checked their cell phones, Twitter and Facebook accounts. What they found was news of a shooter on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin.

    Colton Tooley, a sophomore mathematics major, began firing an AK-47 assault rifle on the UT campus yesterday morning, according to a brief released by UT.

    Students who had signed up for campus alerts received warnings of the gunman through text message, a siren and a loudspeaker system, according to the brief.

    But since UT students are not required to sign up for the service, many took to social media to find news and stay updated.

    UT student Matt Portillo, a senior rhetoric and writing and music production major, said he found out about the shooting through a text message from an unknown number.

    Portillo said he later learned about most of the story through tweets by The Daily Texan, UT Austin’s campus newspaper, and the university.

    Another UT student, John Ramsey, president of the University Residence Hall Association at UT and sophomore accounting major, said a lot of people used Facebook and Twitter to let off-campus students know what was happening.

    In Fort Worth, junior Marissa Chaney was also keeping up with the breaking news through social networking.

    “I think students are more likely to get up first thing and check Twitter and Facebook than turn on the news,” Chaney, a communications studies major, said.

    Chaney said she learned of the event through friends’ Facebook statuses. She said she follows news organizations on Twitter, so she confirmed the news through their tweets.

    However, many students questioned the validity of tweets.

    Ramsey said he relied more on official university statements rather than social media because he felt that the university’s comments would be more reliable.

    TCU student Jill Cox, a senior film-TV-digital media major, received the news through a text message from her brother Taylor Cox, a UT freshman. She said if she were in his situation she would be more likely to rely on the university website to avoid rumors.

    Lisa Albert, university director of communications, said if a shooting were ever to happen on campus, TCU ALERT, the university’s mass notification system, would distribute messages through text, e-mail, and phone.

    People would also be able to check the university’s website and listen to a recorded message line, or check the university’s official Twitter or Facebook page.

    “Whatever is going on the website and TCU ALERT will be echoed on social media sites as well,” Albert said.

    She said the social media pages are controlled by university personnel, so any information going from those sites would be the official university message and information.

    Students relied heavily on social media to stay updated on the situation, both to receive and respond to the news.

    Cox said she regularly checked Facebook and live blogs on news websites. Both Portillo and Ramsey said they checked social media to receive news as well.

    Many students offered prayers to those affected via Facebook, while others created fan pages for Tooley.

    Posts appearing on these fan pages included such phrases as “Are you kidding me? I thought I had at least 2 more lives!!!” and “We lost to UCLA?! F— this! I’m outty!”

    Many of the pages have since been deleted from Facebook.