Inside Higher Ed reports on cyberbullying at university.
There are confession pages and websites, on Facebook and elsewhere. Universities have no way to block access to them.
Most posts are innocent confessions about crushes and pranks — or just hoaxes — but occasionally, students use the sites to launch anonymous attacks and start rumors. That’s what happened recently at Hopkins, where a confessions page on Facebook turned into “a hub for cyberbullying and controversial posts about race and sexual orientation,” according to the independent student newspaper The Johns Hopkins News-Letter.
“It’s unfortunate that from time to time, at colleges across the country, these things pop up,” O’Shea wrote. “It’s unfortunate that a very few people are willing to hide behind the mask of anonymity to say things to which they would never attach their names and reputations.”
One correction: it’s not “a very few.” It’s a lot. A lot of people are willing to do that, including some respectable people, like doctors and government bureaucrats and the like.
More privately hosted sites have appeared in CollegeACB’s wake, including Bored@, which deems itself as an “anonymous social network for educational institutions.” At Dartmouth College, the site is known as Bored@Baker, a reference to the Baker-Berry Library. Membership is restricted to users with an email address ending in “dartmouth.edu” or “alum.dartmouth.org” — in other words, current and former students.
Dartmouth recently launched an investigation in response to a freshman who said she was sexually assaulted after having been named in a “rape guide” posted to the website. The case did not turn up a report of sexual assault in connection with the post, but the university was able to identify the author, who is now undergoing Dartmouth’s disciplinary process, Anderson said.
Just what every university needs, a rape guide.
In many cases, students enjoy First Amendment protection and can’t be held liable for their posts, but Tracy Mitrano, the former director of IT Policy at Cornell University, said some speech may be seen as an assault under criminal law.
“Colleges and universities would do well to borrow these legal concepts and formulate through campus discussion and debate reasonable definitions and standards to incorporate into campus codes of conduct,” Mitrano, who also blogs for Inside Higher Ed, said in an email, adding that “an individual member of the community may enjoy free speech but may also within the community find their speech implicates other provisions under the campus code.”
The “rape guide” was in other words a clear violation of Dartmouth’s campus code — not to mention Bored@Baker’s terms of service — which spurred the university into action.
“While we certainly have a healthy respect for the First Amendment, we also want to make it clear that as a community, we have standards and and expect that … we will treat one another with respect,” Anderson said.
Is a “rape guide” protected under the First Amendment anyway?