Was Omaha Deaf Student Bullied and his backpack thrown in a toilet?

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TL; DR Summary

  • The backpack belonging to a deaf student was thrown into a toilet.
  • When we see this headline, we immediately envision students harassing a deaf student, stealing his backpack and throwing it in a toilet.
  • This story has been widely shared on Facebook as an illustration of bullying behavior; indeed, bullying behavior against a deaf student.
  • Except that is not what happened. Instead, this is a beautifully crafted story whose emotional bait successfully hooks all of us, so we like and share.
  • Emotional bait is a highly effective means of propaganda dissemination. In this example, suggesting a deaf student was bullied serves the promotional interests of those wishing to convey a message about school bullying (even though such bullying did not occur here). When you see news – or FB posts – note how many use emotional contexts to “bait” you in to reading and sharing, even though the story may not be important in a larger context.

The back pack had been inadvertently left on a lunch room table. Two students picked up and promptly did something stupid – they tossed it in a toilet. However, the students did not know the backpack belonged to a deaf student.

“The students who stole the backpack were unaware of the contents of the backpack or that the owner of the backpack was hard of hearing,” Burke High Principal Steven Scraggs wrote in a letter that went home to parents Tuesday. “The backpack was the target, not the student.”, according to the Omaha local newspaper.

He also wrote, “Sadly, this is not unusual to find missing backpacks, without their valuables, in the restrooms or trash bins since those locations are out of the sight of cameras,” Scraggs wrote.”

Since the offending students did not know who the backpack belonged to, it was impossible for them to be targeting the student because he is deaf. Other students and teachers at the school have raised funds to replace the damaged backpack and contents.

Similar behavior goes on every day in schools – and it never makes even the local news, let alone becomes a viral meme on social media. This story made the news because of the emotional hook involving a deaf student and  the general meme that bullying runs rampant in schools.

This story, however, was created in a way that you used your “What you see is all there is” thinking, filling in the unstated parts and turning this into an emotional vision of students hassling and perhaps even assaulting a deaf student.

Once the emotional “System 1” response was established, we felt compelled to share this sad story of school bullies attacking a deaf student. Even though the story is badly mis-characterized and, once understood, is not even worthy of a local news story.

BULLYING IS BAD AND EVIL. THE DEAF STUDENT IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN BULLIED IN THE PAST. THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT BULLYING, HOWEVER. THIS POST IS ABOUT HOW THE STORY LED US TO INCORRECTLY CONCLUDE THIS WAS A BULLYING INCIDENT. THIS WAS A RELATIVELY ROUTINE BAD BEHAVIOR IN A SCHOOL INCIDENT. THIS INCORRECT INTERPRETATION THEN BECAME THE BASIS FOR A VIRAL SOCIAL MEDIA MEME. ISN’T SOCIAL MEDIA PROPAGANDA AMAZING?

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