Unwitting Mashup of Facebook and Juicy Campus?

In a move that recalls the postings on the now-defunct Juicy Campus, Facebook groups devote themselves to vulgar descriptions of female high school students.  As Donna St. George of the Washington Post reported on November 11, a Facebook page targeted 30 female students from the T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia.  It featured photographs of the students accompanied by “offensive or sexual comments.”  Another similar page included a picture of the school’s female principal.  The Daily Beast recently reported that Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school banned access to Facebook through campus computers after discovering a 200-plus-page-long threat penned by female students that disparaged fellow female students.  The Facebook page described Choate students as “hos” and “gross and faked and spray tanned.”

Facebook’s Terms of Service requires users to agree to refrain from bullying, intimidating, or harassing other users.”  Pursuant to that policy (or so we can guess), Facebook took down the page of the 30 girls with the sexually demeaning comments five days after T.C. Williams High School’s principal filed a complaint with Facebook.  Despite Facebook’s real-name culture, the author of the Facebook page has not been identified, an unsurprising result given the advantages provided ill-meaning individuals who want to evade responsibility for online activity.  In the boarding school matter, it seems that a student copied the thread, publishing it for the consumption of students (and everyone else) who were not privy to the Facebook page.  According to the Daily Beast, school administrators “hired a computer forensics expert to track how it had been made public.”  Two of the girls who wrote the post were expelled and four were suspended.

In the T.C. Williams High School matter, the principal went on the school’s PA system for two days in a row to let students know that she thought the page was “totally offensive.”  The Washington Post reports that the principal also asked students to avoid accessing it: “We’re better than this,” she told the students.  If that is all the principal did, it seems a weak showing of moral leadership and civic education.  Hopefully, the incident began a longer-term conversation about many things, including bullying, gender harassment, the risks of online activities, and the responsibilities of students while online.  Now, the school officials’ response in the Choate matter is worth discussing.  Norm Pattis, a Connecticut trial lawyer, contends that the school’s response is too harsh given the dire consequences of a school expulsion on a student’s chances of getting into college.  Prohibiting Facebook on campus may also be an empty gesture.  On the one hand, Choate students have continued to tweet and tumbl on their school accounts.  They also can access social media including Facebook on their mobile devices, raising the same concerns of online civility.  On the other, as Pattis suggests, the school missed a crucial teaching opportunity (beyond a 90-minute discussion with students) on how to be leaders, rather than the quick fix of banning Facebook on the campus network.  That sounds right to me, too.

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3 Responses

  1. dan bednarski says:

    This is nothing new. I dealt with these sorts of lists on a semi-frequent basis when I handled abuse for GeoCities from 1996 to 1999. Then, as now, the schools handled the matters in a variety of ways including suspension and expulsion, and some even involved local law enforcement. Teens will continue to use and adapt to any publishing platform available to share these lists.

  2. Danielle Citron says:

    Dan, So many interesting questions for you given your experience at GeoCities, though just a few thoughts first. Since you worked for GeoCities in its heyday of popularity yet before the true Google explosion of search, we might imagine that the harmfulness of such lists is certainly exacerbated. Now, if the Facebook page is copied and posted publicly with the girls’ names clearly spelled out, Google might produce those threads for so many more people than those who had access to the lists in 1996 or 1997. At the same time, some postings, now instantly searchable and accessible, pose greater risks than others and schools should be able to tackle them in a nuanced way. Schools may respond the same, but should they? We have ten years and more experience under our belt since your experience. We have had so many more years to process how educations can best serve as “social centres” as Dewey would put it, as zones of moral education. So more of the same strikes me as unimaginative at best and educational malpractice at worst. These are just the sorts of areas that educators need to bring nuance and care to the decisions they make–their actions teach students so much.

    Now for my questions: when you were at GeoCities, did you work on safety issues and if so, how did you define and address hate speech? I would love to hear your thoughts.



  3. Clay Boggess says:

    Perhaps by not making a big issue out of it the administrator was attempting to prevent any ‘rogues’ from wanting to capitalize on the publicity by seeking after even more negative attention with ‘copy-cat’ incidents along these same lines.