Car backfire sound prompts Lakeland high school lockdown; all clear given

How Polk Co. handles lockdowns and possible misinformation on social media

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The sound of a car backfiring, which someone mistook for gunshots, prompted a lockdown at Lake Gibson High School.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office responded to the school around 7 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, after what sounded like gunshots were reported in the area, Polk County Schools spokesman Jason Geary said.

There are no reports of injuries, and the students are safe, Geary added. Deputies conducted a search throughout the campus as a precaution.

For the hour or so when students were on lockdown, rumors about what was happening swirled on social media.

"Multiple automatic gunshots were heard," one user tweeted.

Another posted to Facebook, "Shooting at Lake Gibson High. Go please protect these babies!"

"It just went crazy," Sheriff Grady Judd said of the posts on social media. "We had witness there who were trying to calm it down, to no avail."

In fact, a recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at a similar situation. A week after a university-wide lockdown on a college campus, which asked not to be named in the study, researchers interviewed students.

Those who trusted what they read on unofficial social media accounts reported greater distress, the study found.

The researchers recommended people look for official information. They also encouraged police departments and other official accounts to post regularly and often during a crisis, even if there's no new information. They said that could help people calm and stop misinformation from spreading.

Watch the moment that prompted the lockdown: Car backfire sound prompts school lockdown

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