News 14 Carolina made the mistake of using an automated system that posted school and business closing information in its ticker at the bottom of the screen.
For four hours last Friday during a snowstorm, fake closing information entered by pranksters online ran across the bottom of the screen, North Carolina State University's student newspaper reports.
Among the fake messages: a chicken restaurant run by a cousin of Colonel Sanders was opening late; a sex toy emporium run by a fellow named Cecil closed; Bring 'Em Young Daycare was closed and parents were urged to contact R. Kelly; Tutone, Inc., urged employees to contact Jenny at 867-5309; and a public service announcement warned of a "Windows 32 Exception Error" and urged TV viewers to reinstall Windows on their home computers.
The paper reported:
The pranks started when a user posted a thread named "Put your name on the closings list..." with a link to News 14 Carolina's automated closing information system. By 10 p.m., the prank listings were being broadcast to all Time Warner Cable customers.
Station employees were supposed to screen and verify each submission, but the station was so overwhelmed with closings that many went unscreened, but went straight to the television screen.
By 2 a.m., a station worker noticed one of the fake closings and investigated. The station removed the fake and closed the online system.
By noon Friday, screenshots of the fake closings on TV were all over the Internet and posted at popular sites, like Fark.com, Fazed.org, and Terrority.com, a site for Florida State sports fans.
News 14 Carolina has changed their system to prevent this from happening again. Editors will have to contact registered businesses, civic groups, churches and schools directly to verify the closing is real and authorized. Those groups not registered with News 14 Carolina will have to wait a day before their closing information is broadcasted.
"Thousands of people have used the system responsibly since we started it in December 2002," says Alan Mason, general manager of News 14 Carolina.
"It really helps out the small businesses in the area. But it only takes one person to make it a problem for others."
In case anyone had any doubts, this is why setting up an automated system online to feed information onto a television screen without editing is a bad idea.
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