Viral Satire Over Student Suspended For Saying 'Merry Christmas' Leads To Real Problems For Elementary School

from the forward-this-to-everyone dept

I used to think a news item going “viral“, where everyone forwards it or shares it with roughly everyone else, was kind of a cool thing. What a neat little way the internet can facilitate the spreading of important of interesting information, I thought. Then I discovered that many of my fellow American internet denizens apparently suffer from a combination of being exceptionally gullible and not knowing what is. That combination results in too many people (read: any people) believing that a combination of soda and Mentos will kill you, that our government is building million dollar housing complexes for illegal immigrants with my Social Security money, and that Muslims are getting cities to ban Christmas lights for reasons unknown to anyone. Every single one of those stories is false, but it went viral so the idiotic masses were outraged.

Mix a bit of satire — designed to fool just enough of the people — into that viral explosive mix, and things can get weird.

Take the following, for example, where a satirical news story about a student in San Francisco being suspended for wishing an atheist teacher “merry Christmas” spread far and wide and resulted in the taxpayers having to foot the bill for the immensely stupid backlash. The story appeared in the National Report, a satirical news site, and claimed that the above suspension had occurred at Argon Elementary. There is no Argon Elementary in San Francisco. But there sure is an Argonne Elementary, and those parents were pissed.

But an Internet hoax had people across the country believing it did, resulting in e-mail tirades and more than 75 phone complaints and veiled threats of violence against the fictitious teacher or the actual principal. And taxpayers picked up the tab for beefed-up security and staff time to deal with the phony story.

Because of the threats, Argonne elementary school administrators called an emergency teacher meeting to review security procedures and district officials assigned an extra security officer to the campus. In addition, police have increased patrols around the school this week, said district Assistant Superintendent Leticia Salinas.

Okay, a couple of things. To start off with, if you’re the type of person who spreads these kind of “War on Christmas!!!” stories and theories around, I’d like you to do me a quick favor: walk outside. You don’t have to go anywhere in particular, just walk outside. Since it’s December, assuming you live at least somewhere near other human beings, and I promise you that you won’t be able to walk five minutes in any direction without seeing the sickly glow of multi-colored lights, a whole lot of red and green, or that insufferable torture you guys call Christmas music. If there was ever a war on Christmas, which there wasn’t, you guys won, mmkay?

Next, if you’re of the Christian flavor of homosapien, and a slight to one of your holidays causes you to threaten violence against other people in general, you’re doing Christianity wrong. It’s “turn the other cheek”, not “turn the other cheek, grab your guns, and rain hellfire down upon the infidels.” That’s your guys’ rule, not mine. I’m just asking you to follow it.

But the wider lesson is that the internet has progressed to the point where you should be immediately suspicious of any sensational viral news item, because chances are it’s bullshit. But it didn’t stop eager people, including a radio reverend, Craig Donofrio, from jumping into the fray:

“Thank you for your monumental blunder, it will provide me weeks of material on my show,” he wrote to Argonne’s real principal, Cami Okubo. “Keep up the terrible work. It makes my job so much easier! MERRY CHRISTMAS! Craig.”

Only later did Donofrio realize he had been duped.

“It is sad that people make up such stories and agitate others into outrage in such a way,” he said in an e-mail to The Chronicle on Tuesday, adding that he had apologized to the principal. “I was very happy that I did fact-checking before going on air with this story, and it has not been discussed on-air.

Donofrio doesn’t seem to get that it’s satire. It wasn’t designed to “agitate people into outrage,” but to be funny — and, having people overreact to it is part of how satire works, highlighting how easily some people can be fooled. Hell, even those of us that should know better can be fooled. In the end, if something is so insane as to get your ire up, there’s a half-decent chance that it’s too insane to be real. Invest some time in verifying whether a story is real before threatening the kind of holy violence that apparently Jesus was a huge fan of. I mean, I know Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but it isn’t meant to be a template, okay?

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Comments on “Viral Satire Over Student Suspended For Saying 'Merry Christmas' Leads To Real Problems For Elementary School”

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Re: You know who else forced people to wear flair?

Certain factions of American Xianity have a need to feel martyred. They like to seek out or manufacture threats that they can then all rally around.

It’s like another extreme ideology that shall remain nameless.

They need to whip up faithful in order to prevent them from doing any sort of critical thinking. It’s a group bonding experience and a re-affirmation of their shared worldview.

Now they have this “War on Xmas” nonsense. Apparently Darwin wasn’t enough of a Goldstein for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

You see this tons of times with The Onion. A satire so ridiculous it has to be true but isn’t. You could make a list of the people and countries fooled by them and it would read a who’s who.

Sometimes I think that people who read it on the internet think it must be true because it is in print and never consider it is the internet.

Not only our country but the world at large has become so fragmented by all the special interest groups each wanting their say that it’s no wonder our country, much less the world is in the shape it’s in.

Will says:

I am not a religious person, so do not mistake my rational critique as a personally-invested defense. With this said, this piece goes from the “75 phone complaints and threats of violence” spill to assuming Christians in general are violent people. The school added one extra police officer. This is a nice way of telling concerned parents that nothing is expected to happen – meaning the actual threats were of scarce and exaggerated nature. Second of all, your defense of satire, in general, is a good one and I agree – but let’s acknowledge some key facts of this specific example. This particular fiction was placed in a nonfiction state at a school whose pronunciation is identical to an actual school in this state. This is not satire. You’re not allowed to encourage people to believe controversial things happen at real places under real circumstances and then blame their eagerness to act upon this controversy on their intellectual incapacity to recognize “fiction” where it is otherwise misportrayed as reality. As a whole, this paper uses justification of ethically irresponsible variations of satire to scoff at the incompetence of those who were consequently offended. As someone who likes most of your writing, I am disappointed at the bias evident in this piece and the implications it has on your rationale.

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re:

“This particular fiction was placed in a nonfiction state at a school whose pronunciation is identical to an actual school in this state. This is not satire.”

You’ll have to explain why that disqualifies as not being satire.

Satire can include 100% of real places/people/things but where the actions/quotes are ficticious.
I don’t recall where the use of a real name, etc, disqualifies a work of being satirical.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There is a fine line here, just because it might not be illegal does not make it ok to do.

You cannot yell fire in a crowded theatre as it induces panic. The yelling is not illegal, the specific words and implications of them being true is what matters.

This satire of a real place induced panic at a real place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think this piece does that, but I will: Christians are incredibly violent people who perpetuate an ideology steeped in hatred, bigotry, and persecution. They’re not the only ones, of course, but they’re on the list.

Citation: recorded human history, up to and including “this week”. Try studying it sometime.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Nothing hateful or bigoted about that statement, eh?”

As long as AC keeps going with that idea:

People are incredibly violent people who perpetuate an ideology steeped in hatred, bigotry, and persecution.”

It was just the Christians this time around. It’d be the Atheists if it was about someone getting in trouble for refusing to say “Marry Christmas”.

out_of_the_blue says:

"reign hellfire" ... Possibly you mean "RAIN", but I never know...

Your first paragraph could, in the hands of an adequate writer, be biting comment, but basically all you say is: “teh internetz makez me feel smartz!” — And that’s certainly why I visit Techdirt: takes NO effort to feel superior.

Anyhoo, your mistake of “reign” for “rain” makes me feel smart in comparison, Timmy. You DO have a purpose in life, then.

Try a new version of this tagline:

The Microsoft Multiplier: Infect one computer with crap and charge to remove it, you’re hunted as a criminal; infect a billion computers with crap that automatically installs malware and you’re lauded on Wall Street.


Anonymous Coward says:

Satirical works are supposed to be unbelievablely extreme

I’m not one to forward such stories, but given the real news stories I have seen about the effects of “zero tolerance” policies and about how various U.S.-based public entities have handled Christmas-related content, I probably would have treated the story as plausible and worthy of investigation, unlike most pieces from The Onion, where stories are so ridiculous that they are obviously a fake without any need to read deeper.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Satirical works are supposed to be unbelievablely extreme

Still, while it might not be fair or right, the correct response isn’t to be calling in threats (violence or otherwise). While we do (and should) have freedom of religion, that doesn’t give a person the right to (seriously) threaten harm to another human…

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Satirical works are supposed to be unbelievablely extreme

You obviously have missed that the AbortionPlex is still making the rounds on FB, even with a direct link to the story on the Onion.

These stories hit the same mark the politicians/leaders train the masses to be on the look out for.

The standard is react first, then deny that it is made up when people point out you were fooled, then say something about how even if it wasn’t real people still shouldn’t do this.

Anonymous Coward says:

The school isn’t blameless here, the response to a bunch of people getting angry is to hire a ton of extra security because the world may end if anyone is unhappy with their school, justified or not.

Maybe it’s easy to do because it’s not their dime that payed for that extra security. It reinforces my belief that if schools had the funding to be complete totalitarian prisons, they would do it without a second thought.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It wasn’t just a bunch of people ‘getting angry’, it was a bunch of people ‘getting angry and issuing threats‘, so hiring a few people to deal with that, at least as long as the threats are coming in, does seem to be a prudent action.

Now, as soon as things calm down, then letting the security go would be a good idea, but as long as they’ve got morons taking a satire seriously to threaten fake teachers and real people, having someone around just in case one of them decides to ‘complain’ in person makes sense.

ECA (profile) says:


This is so much fun.
I talk to my friends and warn them about Information over load.
The best way to hide something is to BURY IT, with BS.
the Best way to confuse the opposition is to use Propaganda and confusion..

when both sides use it..its Raining BS..and sorting this out is HARD..
And they call this a democracy? HOW can a person CHOOSE if we cant get the WHOLE story..

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Whew, that was close.

“In the end, if something is so insane as to get your ire up, there’s a half-decent chance that it’s too insane to be real.”

Oh thank god. I was starting to thing that all this NSA shredding the constitution and staunch refusal of the government to even acknowledge it, labeling public defenders as traitors was actually real. Now that’s good satire!

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