Case in Point

Can we control social media, or does it control us?


TikTok wins again, were the words from an understandably discouraged Superintendent Joe Burnett when we spoke Friday, Dec. 17 amid the most recent of obnoxious social media challenges.

It began Thursday evening, Dec. 16, when parents in the Wilton School District received an email with the subject: "Nationwide Social Media Threat."

The email said the following:

"Our school districts recently learned of an anonymous, nationwide threat against schools that is being shared on social media outlets such as TikTok. The general threat toward all U.S. schools declares Friday, Dec. 17, as “American School Shooting Day.” The posts warn about the possibility of nationwide shootings or bomb threats associated with this day.

We have partnered with local law enforcement to vigilantly investigate whether there are any local connections to these social media posts. At this time, law enforcement has not acquired any evidence that would deem these threats as credible in our area. Out of an abundance of caution, our schools will be in continual contact with law enforcement throughout the day on Friday.

Please take this opportunity to talk with your students about the appropriate use of social media, and the seriousness and resulting consequences of making any kind of threat. Encourage your students to speak with you or an adult at school if they see or hear something so immediate action can be taken. In addition, if anyone in our community sees something suspicious, please report it to the school immediately or call local law enforcement.

We appreciate your support and partnership."

Naturally, as one could imagine with not having kids in school, I didn't get this email, nor did I know anything about the next TikTok threat.

Yet sadly, was I surprised? No. It was not that long ago we wrote a front-page story about vandalism happening in Durant school bathrooms because TikTok told kids to.

This is the point when I'm going to climb up on my soapbox to scream, "When are we going to stop being sheep?"

We can't just blame our kids. They may have TikTok, where they make meaningless videos set to music. Us older folks have Facebook and Twitter, where we rant back and forth with each other while sharing (often times) disinformation.

While on the subject of TikTok, let me just say that in the weeks and months since getting a little understanding of it due to the story we did, I have never visited the site or app myself. But I do get shown things. I suppose the best way I can describe my constant reaction is the shaking of my head.

If I had a dollar for every video I see of students — several of them prominent student-athletes — dancing and singing along to music that is full of cursing and racist language, I'd be a rich man. I thought we were better.

Back to school shooting day ... hang on while I process the fact that I actually had to write that.

I asked Burnett, the superintendent of both Wilton and Durant schools, to let me know how many students were absent last Friday. According to an email I received later that day, the numbers were 197 in Wilton and 163 in Durant.

As Burnett would go on to say in our conversation, "TikTok wins." Perhaps just another 3-day weekend.

Over the past handful of years, I've really begun feeling a large sense of appreciation for the secretaries at our local schools. The amount of emails and phone calls they must deal with on a day-to-day basis has to be astounding.

OK, back on my soapbox. I never thought I'd be old enough to say the phrase, "Back in my day," but here it goes. When I was in school, it was like a fortress or prison. You showed up before 8:15 a.m. and you didn't get out until after 3 p.m.


There were no visits. Parents didn't come to eat lunch with us or play at recess with us. They didn't attend our activities during the school day. A select few, my mother included at times, were "room mothers." These kind and gentle souls were often stay-at-home moms who would come in every once in awhile to ensure that a holiday party got off without a hitch or things like that.

We only got report cards sent home a couple times a year, and grades were not daily accessible online.

We didn't have cellphones, so we didn't have constant access to the outside world while in school. There were two phones — one in the school office, and one rotary phone located outside the office, that you could possibly use if there wasn't a long line waiting for it.

We survived. We all survived. And if we got in trouble, the majority of the time our parents told us to do what the school said, whether it be detention, extra work, etc.

Now, parents and guardians know about what's happening within the walls of the school before the administration. Wow, am I glad I'm out!

Burnett confirmed that both Durant and Wilton sent the emails home. The minute they pressed "send," it meant the number of absences were going to skyrocket. They had to do it. The schools had to be proactive.

If I had children, they would have been in school that day. Forget the 3-day weekend stuff. School still remains the most productive and safe place our kids can be. Both schools are now locked down all the time. Both schools have Student Resource Officers (members of local law enforcement who are armed).

Talk about a fortress. When I was in school, every entrance was wide open all the time. The dirty secret is that no one wanted to come in.

Being a journalist for 20 years, this isn't the first time I've written about tragedy or school shootings. I always say school shootings can occur in "Anytown, USA." And they do, at an alarming rate. We don't need threats to increase that risk — it's always present.

I began seeing a "meme" floating around social media that Friday — and yes I can't believe I'm writing the word "meme." It said,"Today, parents across the country will fear TikTok enough to not send their kids to school — but don't fear TikTok enough to take it off their kids' phones. Let's start there."

Wrong. You'll never get me to be an advocate for censorship. I get the idea, but I'd modify it to say, let's teach one another that the world doesn't revolve around us; that there are rules, consequences and authority figures among us to help keep things in order.

What happened to the "greater good?" Instead it's morphed into, "Me, me, me" mentalities. That can be seen all around us, we don't have to watch TikTok videos for that.

I like the "see something, say something" mentality as well. And both Wilton and Durant schools have the P3 app now, where anonymous tips can be made if you see things going on in and round school that are questionable. Don't see yourselves as "rats," see yourselves as students who care about each other and your communities.

Talk to your neighbors, in the classroom, on the job and in your neighborhood. You'll be happy you did. Take care of each other. Practice empathy. We can do this!