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Tuesday
Jun132017

Professor mistakenly trolled says social media has become 'a very dangerous place to be' 

ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) -- It didn’t take long for Kerry O’Grady to know something was very wrong.

“I’m getting all of these hateful messages,” said O’Grady, “and they started turning from, ‘You should be fired,’ to more along the lines of, ‘You’re completely unpatriotic and you don’t deserve your position,’ and started getting kind of nasty.”

O’Grady, a communications professor at New York University, scanned her social media profiles trying to make sense of the messages pouring in and quickly uncovered why she was being targeted. It was October 2016. On the other side of the country, a Colorado-based U.S. Secret Service agent had posted a private Facebook message expressing support for Hillary Clinton and saying she would not take a bullet for then-candidate Donald Trump.

That agent had the same name with the same spelling as O'Grady, But as the agent's Facebook post went viral, she deleted her social media profiles. Which left the other Kerry O’Grady, who at the time was preparing to teach her first NYU class of the semester, on the receiving end of hundreds of hateful messages attacking her, her family and her integrity.

“It was exhausting to absorb all of the anger from people. It was disheartening to absorb that energy,” O’Grady recalled. “I was freaking out a little bit on the inside.”

Worried about her public profiles, all of which she uses in her teaching, O’Grady set aside her personal feelings and went on the offensive. She posted an explanatory post on Facebook to her inner circle that they could then circulate. She replied to her Twitter trolls, one by one, addressing them individually to disarm them, and created a hashtag campaign, #notsecretservicekerry, to spread word about the mistake. She worked through the night, trying to clean up the mess.

“They didn’t take the time to know who I was. So it was important to me that they did know,” said O’Grady. “That was my rationale behind starting to answer every single tweet, every single Facebook message.”

Reflecting on that night during our conversation, several months after the fact, O’Grady is now able to put it into perspective.

“America has been divided so much by politics,” she said “So, messages are coming across as sometimes incoherent, or, you know, with many, many spelling errors. Or politically charged in a way that doesn’t seem like they really understand what’s going on, that they’re just angry.”

“Social media, I think, has always been a place to express ideas and opinions. I think now it’s not about ideas and opinions, but it’s about, ‘How fast can I relay my anger? How can I express and use this as an outlet for my feelings?’ And that’s a very dangerous place to be.”

Check out the full conversation on this week’s episode of "Uncomfortable."

Download and subscribe to the "Uncomfortable" podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and ABC News podcasts.

O'Grady was interviewed as part of a series called 'Uncomfortable," hosted by Amna Nawaz, that offers in-depth honest conversations with influential figures about issues dividing America.

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