Social Media Assessment- Blog

Teachers at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway are blaming the Council for the ‘cage’ they tried to pass off as an autistic teenager’s play area. The ‘cage’ was taken down a fortnight ago following angry comments and brutal reports. The Nicolson Institute are trying desperately to re-build their once wholesome reputation, damaged by the mistakes of the Council. Stornoway Council have spoken about changes they have made and the real story behind the structure. These changes were brought on by the negative media attention this structure received both in the press and in online discussions, blogs and on various social networking sites.

                After searching Twitter and Facebook for many hours, I finally found the name of the 18 year old autistic boy’s teacher, Mrs Maclean, and arranged to meet. She told me something that has not yet reached the press:

‘The mix-up happened because I wasn’t asked for my input before the items were ordered. They were actually ordered by the procurement department of the Council who don’t understand the specific needs of autistic children. There is a new policy ensuring that all parties involved are consulted before placing orders in the future.’

My question, which was blatantly ignored, was: Wouldn’t you check what was being delivered before putting it up? This makes no sense to me. I understand how the Council could have made a mistake, but if you were expecting toys and decking yet received building supplies, surely you’d notice before the structure was up and ready for use.

The public outrage over the autistic boy’s ‘cage’ was displayed for all too see. But despite the Council taking full responsibility for the mistake, the school received most of the public complaints. The Nicolson Institute, my secondary school, once carried an untarnished reputation. Now, people are referring to the teachers as ‘monsters’ and ‘barbaric’ on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter without knowing much about the school at all. In one particularly harsh post, a former pupil said:

‘Fucking bang out!!!!feel ashamed to have gone there makes me feel sick’ (http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/Mummy2JD)

There are not many autistic children on the Isle of Lewis, yet people still expect the teachers and the Council members to be perfectly trained for dealing with them. I can understand why the ‘cage’ was a bad idea but how were they to know? Some would answer that with two simple words: ‘common sense’. But the instructions for the construction of the structure went around like Chinese whispers, so it seems more likely that it was a mix-up rather than lack of training.

Some former pupils have posted on Facebook that the ‘cage’ is ‘morally wrong’ and ‘a crime against nature’. But if this really was due to a ‘mix-up with the suppliers’, the angry comments should surely stop. Several very public apologies have been made to all affected so why can’t everyone just kiss and make up? I arranged an interview through Facebook with Stornoway council leader, Angus Campbell (everyone appears to have Facebook these days). During this interview, he stated that:

‘The media attention has forced us to make changes to our existing policies and also create new ones. In addition to this, we removed the structure and we sent our deepest apologies to anyone affected by this blunder.’

Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar (Stornoway Council) has introduced a new procurement policy to prevent any more ‘mix-ups’ with suppliers and have apologised a countless number of times online and in formal letters to the boy’s parents. Also, any public communications must now go through a press officer. They appear to be trying desperately to gain forgiveness and failing horrifically.

The Council continue to blame a ‘mix-up’ for the structure and the public continue to show their outrage on Facebook, Twitter and various blogging sites. But how do the poor boy’s parents feel? I arranged to speak with them the old fashioned way, over the phone. This was purely because I couldn’t find them on Facebook or Myspace. They both agreed that the structure was ‘somewhat inappropriate’ but they also stated that they are ‘grateful an outdoor play area has even been made available’ as their son has been attending the school for almost 6 years and has been stuck indoors all day, every day.

                Due to this press coverage, the school and the Council have started to repair the damage they caused. Purely out of interest, I started a poll on Facebook for my fellow islanders to see who they believe is to blame. It shocked and upset me when the results showed the majority to blame the school! Who knows who is really to blame; I suppose I’m slightly sensitive to this area as it was my school under e-attack.

                It has been a busy news month for poor Stornoway but things are finally looking up. The negative comments appear to be dying down gradually, allowing school spirit to return just in time to learn the lines for the Christmas pantomime!

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