PR crises can come from absolutely anywhere, up to and including stories that aren’t about the organizations that end up taking the blame.
Case in point: Argonne Elementary School in San Francisco has been flooded with angry calls and emails over an article on the website National Report
about a student who was suspended for a week for wishing his atheist teacher “merry Christmas.”
Argonne’s overloaded administrative staff has had to repeatedly explain that none of that really happened. The student and the teacher are made up. National Report
is a satirical news site and the school in its report was a fictional one, spelled “Argon” instead of “Argonne.” (It has since been changed to “Anon.”)
The calls were so bad that the school’s administrators had to call an emergency teacher meeting to review security procedures, according to SF Gate
Like many satirical reports—issued by sites such as The Onion
and The Daily Currant
—this story went viral on social media; it garnered 20,000 Facebook “likes” and shares and was linked 400 times on Twitter. It’s likely not everyone who shared the story believed it, but quite a few apparently did.
School administrators said some of the calls from people responding to the article included threats of violence.
“You don't expect to have to deal with this at this time of year," District Assistant Superintendent Leticia Salinas said. "What was mostly upsetting was some of the references of what people should do to the teacher."
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When informed that the story is a hoax, most callers simply hang up, the school’s secretary said.
It doesn’t seem like there was much Argonne or the school district could have done to prevent the crisis—it was all made up, after all—but this story does offer one big lesson: Watch like a hawk for hoaxes or satire related to your organization’s name.