Get Back on That Bus!

I generally hate news like this, because some public school district officials have to be pushed — kicking and screaming — into using public relations tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Nevertheless, this story just goes to show you how determined people can be in using social media to deceive, lie and generally screw with other people’s lives.
According to the National School Public Relations Association, a fake Twitter account posing as the Rogers, Ark., Public Schools announced on Monday that the schools were closed because of bad weather. Although many schools in the region were closed because of a storm, Rogers Public Schools were open.
The fake tweet was discovered early enough for Rogers Public Schools, which has 813 Twitter followers, to respond through regular communication channels. Ashley Siwiec, the district communications coordinator, reminded families that they should verify all social media posts by also checking the district’s website, rogersschools.net, which also features a warning about imposters.
Ms. Siwiec also issued this announcement: “Please note that @RogersSchools is the real Twitter account for the Rogers School District and @Rogers_Schools is an impersonator.”
In addition, the district filed a complaint with Twitter in an attempt to disable the account, and Twitter responded quickly, suspending the rogue tweeter. According to a local TV station, the fake account already displayed many tweets similar to those posted on the official account, dating back to Feb 10, 2010.
While this is a good lesson for anyone who believes that these giant social media companies won’t respond, it’s also not yet another reason to avoid diving into social media. Just remember that nothing is fail-safe in the World of the Web. Here are a few tips for anyone administering school district social media tools:
1. Always contact Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to report fake accounts, spam, and inappropriate comments.
2. Develop a social media policy, if you don’t have one.
3. Write disclaimers and guidelines for use and post them on your Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages.
4. Link to your disclaimers and guidelines from your website home page.
5. Conduct a public presentation about how your district is using social media. Preferably, conduct the presentation at a public event, like a school board meeting, and televise it district-wide.
6. Turn off comments on both your YouTube channel and on each video you post on the channel.

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2 thoughts on “Get Back on That Bus!

  1. Evelyn, great post with some really solid tips. I’m still a bit torn though about #6. It would seem to me that turning off comments on YouTube and individual videos might be counter-intuitive. Not to stir the pot too much, but school districts are starving for more efficient ways to engage in two-way dialogues with their stakeholders and it would seem that turning off comments would shut down that opportunity. Would you disagree? Let me ask this question. Would you recommend the same for a district’s Fan Page or a Superintendent’s blog?

    1. Hi Chris: Thanks so much for your comment! I know, it seems to go against the grain of transparency, which I would normally recommend to school districts, school boards and superintendents. And on Facebook, it’s fine to allow commenting because most people join FB for one reason — to find people they know. So they use their real names and profile photos. But the anonymous comments on YouTube can often be nasty, vile and terribly homophobic for some reason. Michael Wesch, one of my favorite people online, is a professor at Kansas State University and teaches cultural anthropology. He was named the Carnegie Institute’s Professor of the Year in 2009 and devoted his acceptance speech to an examination of YouTube, mostly positive. But he noted that comments on YouTube often go astray, for some reason. I do think that superintendent’s blogs should also be open to commenting, and most blogging platforms allow you to moderate comments first, then post them. But I do generally lean toward being as open and collaborative as possible. Here’s a link to that Michael Wesch speech, if you would like to see it. It’s long, but definitely worth watching: http://www.youtube.com/user/mwesch#p/u/3/hBmDgMFAZTI
      Thanks again for writing in!

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