Raleigh school project gets out of hand when fake event garners real-world reaction
Posted December 8, 2016
Updated December 9, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — A school project by a group of Enloe High School students quickly got out of hand.
Vishnu Inuganti, Julie Cybrynski, Daniel Zhu and Maks Bezruchko created a fictitious event involving a visit from first lady Michelle Obama as part of an assignment for their AP government and civics class. In less than 24 hours, 1,000 people from the Triangle signed up to attend a rally at Red Hat Amphitheater on Dec. 17.
The four seniors were to create a public interest group on a civic cause, establish a social media presence and arrange some sort of fictitious event. The team invented an anti-voter suppression group on Facebook and Twitter called "The Coalition for Voter Freedom," but the group garnered little attention until they advertised an event with Obama.
Inuganti said that part was his idea.
"Of course, everyone wanted to come see the first lady speak," he said.
"The rubric said, if it were a real event, it would gain 'news coverage,'" added Daniel Zhu, gesturing at the camera and laughing.
The event was meant to be strictly an academic exercise, but Bezruchko said it got a real-world reaction.
"We had to make a flier for it and stuff, and I think, when people saw it, they assumed it was real for some reason," he said. "I'm not really surprised. They saw Michelle Obama, and nobody would really lie about that, except I guess we did."
The team said they shared the event with only a few people, but by the following morning, 500 people were interested. In less than 24 hours, it hit 1,000.
"Once we saw how popular it got, we were just like, 'This cannot end well for us,'" said Inuganti. "So, we just decided to take it down."
That's when Inuganti told his parents.
"I opened with, 'Dad, what constitutes fraud?'" he said. "I wasn't sure what this was."
Still, Cybrynski said it was a success.
"We gained the interest of a lot of people for a project we were supposed to gain interest for," she said. "It's really cool how it escalated so quickly and became a real thing, even though it was a project."
Some people quickly suspected the rally wasn't real, including the manager of the amphitheater, who messaged the group.
The students said they didn't intend to deceive anyone and apologized for any misunderstanding.
WRAL News asked the teacher who assigned the project for an interview, but he was not available.