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Be Careful, Social Media Can Bite.

CC Image - pixabay.com

Boy, did I learn a lesson about the dark side of social media yesterday! Actually, the lesson came at the hands of a few, for the lack of a better word, idiots who think they can hide behind a veil of anonymity as they darken an otherwise perfect commencement ceremony with bomb threats and offensive remarks. Fortunately, our traditional, beautiful graduation ceremony was not disrupted by these abusers of social media.  




I owe my school, the community, and the local police an apology. As school Technology Coordinator, I should know better than to allow "unmoderated" comments to run alongside our live video stream. Unfortunately, that's exactly what I did.  I had a list of 100 other technical things that I needed to check and recheck. That's no excuse, as I even acknowledged the first several posts accompanying our live stream during the introduction were congratulatory comments to our graduates. During the past few years, we have streamed several public events viewed online by almost 20,000 people, and without incident. I made the mistake of assuming that everyone is as transparent and responsible with social media as I am. I was wrong, and I am sorry.

Forty minutes into our commencement ceremony, our technology staff noticed threatening posts and quickly disabled the comments feature on our live feed. Simultaneously, a viewer in the neighboring community read the same posts and promptly, smartly, called 911. Cooler heads prevailed. A discrete search of the facility disarmed the threat. Thirty minutes later, graduates, faculty, and guests exited the building happy to have been a part of one of the best commencement ceremonies we have ever had. Almost none of the 4000 guests had any idea that anything unusual was occurring until exiting into a large, protective police presence, and until being "clued-in" by, you guessed it... social media.

I share this experience as advice to others. No matter how hard we try to encourage, model, and teach responsible use of digital communication, there are always going to be those handful of individuals that tend to mess things up for the rest of us.  

Protect yourself and your audience by moderating or disabling comments, and by reporting cyber abuses when they occur. I am now spending time and energy assisting the streaming host, and the police department. We are using technology resources, including social media, to investigate the origins of the threatening messages. I am learning that it is just a matter of time before the offenders are caught. What was intended as a prank to create disruption is in fact a cyber crime punishable under regulations enforced by the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security. During these sensitive times, the threat of violence is not to be taken lightly. Our school administrative team, along with the police department, acted swiftly and decisively. Yet, a traditional recognition ceremony was preserved and enjoyed.

Congratulations Class of 2013

For a variety of reasons, we may not "live-stream" our commencement ceremony in the future. This will be a loss for me, and the hundreds of friends and relatives that are able to observe a significant milestone from miles, and in some cases, nations away. Once again, I apologize for my oversight. I have learned a lesson the hard way and I am sharing my failure. Social media, as terrific as it can be for supporting connected learning, can occasionally bite the hand that feeds it.


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