At 8:01 p.m. Tuesday, a tweet went out via social media platform Twitter declaring Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) in Maryland would be closed Wednesday. It was retweeted nearly 200 times.
The problem was school had not been canceled: The tweet was a fake, sent from the the public account of a student. The tweet looked legit to those who retweeted and favorited it. By altering his Twitter handle to @AACountySchool—just one letter off from the AACPS Twitter handle of @AACountySchools—and changing his account profile photo and background to mimic the school's account, the student was able to fool many of his followers.
The student seemed to think the whole incident was funny, tweeting at around 2 a.m. Wednesday, "Today was pretty good. Had no school, got school canceled, and got twitter famous by getting everyone's necks."
AACPS, however, did not find the situation amusing.
"Certainly we didn't think it was funny," Bob Mosier, AACPS spokesperson said in an interview. "People wait for announcements from us and immediately begin to make plans when they get those announcements."
Last night's hoax tweet caused a lot of "consternation," Mosier said.
"What happens is people see things on social media and they take them as fact as they begin to distribute them," Mosier said.
The student switched his account and twitter handle back to normal shortly after sending the hoax tweet. AACPS officially canceled schools at around 8:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Mosier encouraged parents to follow the actual AACPS Twitter account, @AACountySchools, and Facebook page for social media updates. He also said parents should make sure their child's school has email and cell phone contact numbers, so they can be added to distribution lists for official notifications on school cancellations and delays.
"That's something directly from us to you as a parent," Mosier said.
As for the student, it's not clear yet if there will be repercussions for the practical joke. Mosier said the school system will make a decision about that once classes resume.
"There is a freedom of speech issue but there is a clear connection to school activities so we will take a look at it," he said.