A recent harassment allegation has St. Thomas University students watching their online behaviour, as an inquiry brought on the voluntary closure of two STU-branded Facebook pages.
Last Wednesday, “UNBF and STU Confessions and Compliments” administrator Matt Kelly, a UNB student, began shutting the page down. It can take up to 14 days to be removed from the Web. A day later, “Spotted at STU” began its own shutdown. Both pages allowed users to post anonymously.
St. Thomas spokesman Jeffrey Carleton said the university will continue to work with with law firm Cox & Palmer to explore its options to stop online harassment, though reprimand for Kelly would likely come from his own school, which is reportedly not taking further action. He said any other punitive action would stem from new complaints.
Ayla Poitras, a second-year English major at STU, intends to come forward with a complaint after she was sexually harassed in anonymous posts, and was directly insulted by identified students a number of times for her comments.
“I feel like since I did defend or go against what was posted, depending on the nature of the post, I think that’s what resulted in me getting targeted that way,” she said.
At one point, Poitras said Kelly sent her a message using his own Facebook profile, asking her if she wanted him to remove a post about her.
“At that point it had been up so long I said, ‘Don’t bother,'” she said, “Because, one, everyone had already seen it, and, two, everyone who was commenting thought the post was stupid or wrong, too.”
Philippe Ferland, a second-year STU student, found himself the butt of a joke-page seeking a girlfriend for him that gained popularity through the confessions page. He said he wasn’t offended, and it didn’t take long to learn the page was created by his friends.
Ferland is disappointed with the closure, and saw the confessions page, and the Internet as a whole, as a bastion for free speech.
“Especially with the Internet being more propagated towards the masses, it allowed basically everyone to have an opinion,” Ferland said, though the take-down of the confessions page has him thinking more about people’s reactions before he makes something public.
As one post to the page read, “Anonymity wields a lot of power.”
Poitras agrees that anonymity can be a benefit, and that the website couldn’t have truly been a “confessions” page without it. She said she would rather post publicly, though.
“Having your name attached to something, it is almost more empowering to you because you have the guts to back up what you’re saying,” she said.
Matt Marr, a second year criminology student at STU, was a fan of the page, and is disappointed it’s being taken down.
“I think everyone can voice their opinion on the Internet without being bashed,” he said. “But once it’s out there…people will look at that and determine what kind of person you are. Unless people aren’t afraid to voice an opinion, be ready for critics.”
Marr received some negative response for his public comments, and was accused of making certain anonymous confessions.
“I sure hope that other people learn from this page, not necessarily because it was a bad page, but…to think about what might be bad about it and think about who it might offend,” he said.
Carleton first learned of “UNBF and STU Confessions and Compliments,” after a student emailed UNB and STU administrators about it earlier this month. He said a number of posts were in violation of STU’s harassment policy, which covers electronic communications between students.
“We have small campuses and everyone knows who is being targeted by these posts,” Carleton said Wednesday before the announced closure. “This person [who sent the email] felt that there was bullying taking place on the site and felt that the administration should step in and do something about it.”
The confessions page had recently made an effort to filter new posts, after initially stating they would remain uncensored.
Carleton said last November the “Spotted at STU” page administrator was approached to take the university’s logo and word mark off the page and to filter its content. The school was satisfied with its changes, but feels further action is now needed because cyberbullying is continuing to be an issue.
“We’re still going to proceed at St. Thomas to make sure we understand the legal issues related to this kind of matter,” he said. “It’s happened now twice, and there’s good reason to believe it will happen again.”