Social Media Gets Nasty

Shawn Kellmer, Web Editor

Students and faculty of were under attack on social media until the nasty account was suddenly closed.

A Twitter account called MUConfessions surfaced just before spring break. On the Twitter feed, user(s) posted unfavorable – and often personal – comments about students and faculty sometimes using full names of the individuals.

Steve Filipiak, Web Content Coordinator, discovered the page while monitoring the university’s official social media accounts as well as third-party accounts. He monitors third-party users to see what others are saying about MU.

“It was clear, when that page was identified, that a lot of information was being shared on that account was offensive in nature, especially that it wasn’t something that was posted anonymously. People were identified first name and last name,” Filipiak said. “I didn’t know them personally, but it looked like Misericordia students.”

The account was discovered within 24 hours of it being released, and Filipiak quickly brought this to the attention of Jim Roberts, Director Communications Marketing.   

Once the problem was identified, Roberts and Filipiak notified the campus’ Student Affairs office and had a series of meetings to discuss methods on how to resolve or counter act what was said.

“The difference, seeing the other sites, is it didn’t look like students were being identified by first name and last name,” Filipiak said. “They were just saying random comments without really identifying students. It’s still really offbeat, vulgar, and offensive though. Our page seemed to have that extra level of offensive content because it identified folks.”

According to Filipiak, school officials sought legal counsel only to discover that MU was unable to take legal action to shut down the account.

The only two ways a school can legally deal with these accounts is if the user(s) are posting copyrighted material, such as a logo, or if the user(s) are impersonating someone. These are listed on the Terms of Agreement on Twitter.

Kit Foley, Dean of Students, said she become aware of the account after a student had emailed her with concerns.

“We looked at the Twitter site and certainly there were some things to be concerned about,” Foley said. “[There was] nothing that the institution really could do, but there some things that, in my mind, were inappropriate.”  

Foley said that she believes in freedom of speech, but feels that the content on MUConfessions goes too far and does not represent the campus community.

“We can’t stop anything. We’ve worked with Jim Roberts and Steve to see if there is anything institutionally we can do about it. Really there is nothing institutionally we can do about it because they haven’t taken any of our copyrights,” Foley said. “The language up there is really not who we are as an institution.”

Foley responded by sending out a mass email on E-MU and personal announcements as well as posters around campus warning students of online harassment and what they can do if they feel that they have been a subject of it.

“We’re trying to say to students ‘What is it that you can do yourselves to try to prevent this from happening?'” Foley said. “We’re always concerned about harassment and what is crossing over the line. The fact that it’s anonymous makes me crazy.”

MUConfessions is not the first time students and faculty have dealt with online harassment, but it is the most recent.

Another Twitter account, MUProbs, has been around for some time, but, according to Foley, it consists of students’ complaints about things on campus and posts do not include names.

“Over the years we’ve dealt with Facebook issues. We are aware of the MUProbs.  We haven’t seen any real serious kinds of things on that. Often it’s PR or another student that will alert us to something going on,” Foley said.

Foley believes there can be social ramifications of online harassment, but she also wants students to know that it can impact a person’s well-being. She said anyone affected by online harassment should seek help.

“You begin to feel really bad about yourself. It impacts your self-esteem and things like that. We have resources on campus. The CAPS center is a place to go and talk to people,” Foley said. “We forget how hurtful words can be and how it really can impact a person and how it makes them feel.”

Robert Zavada, Associate Director of Campus Safety, said  Campus Safety looks at an online harassment incident in the same manner as any harassment situation. He said in many incidents can be worse because something that is written and it does not go away.

According to Zavada, there is no distinction between online harassment or harassment in other forms in the state law. The law groups harassment by communication in a spoken, written, online, or  text message form.

“The dangers of putting something in the written word are far-reaching. Once you start putting stuff in writing it becomes permanent. People think that things are deleted and that the website could go away someday or whatever, but those things are never truly deleted and they could come back to haunt you in the future,” Zavada said. “People need to start using common sense in what they are saying.”

The best way to avoid online harassment is to not pay attention to negative things on social media or elsewhere.

“I would not encourage anything by responding back and trying to get into some kind of online argument with somebody that has made some kind of comment. It might be best to show them no attention at all,” Zavada said. “If you show them no reaction on your part maybe that will be enough to suppress it.”

Anyone who is a victim of online harassment should report it to Campus Safety, Student Affairs, or Gary Samuels and the Community Standards Office.

MUConfessions took down the account on Twitter prior to the publication of this article.

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