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Social Media Gives Reasons for Pause

Dartmouth College forward Karlee Odland. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Dartmouth College forward Karlee Odland. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

There were a couple of examples involving Dartmouth sports this week of how social media can take the reader or the poster in an unexpected direction.

First came ominous Twitter postings by two current members of the Big Green women’s hockey team, plus another by a recent graduate of the program. They referred to junior forward Karlee Odland and expressed sympathy and sorrow, along with hashtags such as #takentoosoon and #ripKO.

After studying them for a few minutes and turning over various scenarios in my mind, I couldn’t shake the worry that something tragic had happened to Odland, one of the team’s better players. So I began to cast out messages to various folks in search of an answer.

After about an hour, word filtered back from Dartmouth that Karlee Odland was physically fine, but that her father, Kalvin Odland, had died in an automotive crash not far from his Alberta home.

The Dartmouth players obviously knew what had happened and didn’t intend to throw a scare into anyone, but it reinforced the potential power of Internet communication and the endless possibilities for misinterpretation.

A couple of days later, I received an email entitled “Not a good idea”, that included a link to another Tweet. This one showed a photo of a high school player who had just committed to compete for a Dartmouth sports team starting next season. The image showed the smiling teen, his/her parents and a Dartmouth sweatshirt — held on to the edge of a table by a large bust depicting a Native American man.

Given Dartmouth’s widespread and contentious use of the “Indian” nickname and mascot for much of the 20th century, my first reaction was disbelief. How could this kid and his/her adult mentors not realize that the photo would touch off all sorts of disapproval once it got out?

Then I dug a little deeper and realized the player in questions competes for a high school with the Native American nickname “Chiefs”. The bust is presumably on display at the school as part of that moniker’s use there.

It’s doubtful the player and their parents realized how the photo might be received in connection with Dartmouth. But as the college’s former president, Jim Yong Kim, used to say, it’s not how you think your message comes across, it’s how it’s received that’s important.