A student at Bowling Green State University posted footage of what she claimed was a KKK meeting taking place on campus — but it turned out to be a sheet covering a piece of lab equipment.
Twitter user @autumpatrice exposed the “meeting” with this tweet on Sunday:
Understandably, people freaked out. One Twitter user, “LW12Warrior,” said that the video was an example of how things are in “Donald Trump’s America.” Another, “@KKaDi91,” thanked @autumnpatrice for sharing and added, “I didn’t know about that before but I realize now why we get so much hate in this small town.”
In response, @autumpatrice encouraged @KKaDi91 to “spread” the video — all before anyone had a chance to figure out what was actually going on.
Then, on Monday, BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey posted this response:
Yes — a cover on a piece of lab equipment. Whoops.
All of this may sound kind of crazy, but this is far from the first time that something like this has happened. Early last year, the chancellor at University of Wisconsin–Whitewater posted a statement branding students who she thought had been wearing blackface as “racist” on the school’s official website before discovering they had actually just been wearing exfoliation masks. In 2015, the University of Delaware’s president declared “nooses” hanging from trees on campus to be a “hate crime” only to discover that they were just remnants of paper lanterns.
Now, @autumpatrice has insisted that she did nothing wrong — tweeting things like “the possibility that it COULD HAVE BEEN one is the actual issue” and “I’m not gana apologize for exposing something that I thought I saw, esp if it could have possibly been somethin serious as this” (sic).
No doubt: The charge that BGSU was allowing KKK members to conduct business on their campus is a “serious” one, and that’s exactly what makes what @autumpatrice did such a big deal. This very serious charge was posted on Sunday, and then retweeted hundreds of times before the president had a chance to post the results of her investigation on Monday — which means there are almost certainly people out there who saw only the accusation and not the explanation. There are almost certainly people out there who think that BGSU really did allow KKK members on campus, and that’s really not a good look for anyone.
Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s terrible to see how downright mean some people are being to @autumpatrice over this. She did what she did out of fear, and any student who feels threatened absolutely should report their concerns to the administration, even if they aren’t sure exactly what’s going on. But at the same time, it’s also important to make sure you have accurate information about a situation before rushing to spread your first impression of it to the public — where fake news has the potential to do some real harm.
This story was previously reported on in an article on Heat Street.