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 Snopes.com 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?

Filed Under: merry christmas, overreaction, satire, viral


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Will, 23 Dec 2013 @ 1:53pm

    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.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.