Junior Luis Gonzales Rios said he has seen pictures online of defenseless Fairfield students extremely intoxicated and even passed out, taken without consent.
Freshman Kimberly Ciardiello said, “I’ve definitely seen people be bullied on social media sites.”
“I’m getting rid of my Facebook so I don’t have to see stuff like that” said Michelle Lespino ’16.
Recent high profile cases in Steubenville, Ohio and Torrington, Conn. have brought to light the potential that social media has to destroy the life of another human being. In both cases, convictions were driven by content posted on Twitter or Facebook with malicious intent.
Fairfield students expressed they would like to think that sort of thing could never happen here, but it already has. As many as five cases of misuse of social media have been under investigation this semester alone, and administrators said it may be a growing problem.
In a survey of 30 students conducted by The Mirror, 70 percent reported they had at some point witnessed activity – directed towards themselves or another person – that was threatening, violating or victimizing in nature on a social media outlet such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
The use of social media has drastically increased, and according to Todd Pelazza, director of the Department of Public Safety, “law enforcement needs to keep up with that.”
Social media “has been a tool we have utilized in the past doing research with incidents, particularly when we get a complaint of harassment or threatening [where] very often people will use that social media,” he continued.
Whether DPS is able to view content on student profiles online, “depends on whether they set their privacy settings,” Pelazza said, unless presented with a screenshot of the violation in question.
Dean of Students Karen Donoghue is responsible for reviewing submitted cases in violation of the student code of conduct. Cases having to do with Internet usage are referred to as “misuse of technology” and encompass everything from using too much bandwidth to discrimination, sexual harassment and threats.
Cases are submitted to the Office of the Dean of Students by students directly. Submissions reviewed do not automatically count as policy violations.
“Recognizing that these sites are independent of the institution … we don’t openly look for information,” said Donoghue.
“Marketing and communications, they do things on their own end” commented Donoghue. “I’m sure they search websites all the time. They have software … and they can give you a whole other perspective.”
Scott Barnett is the director of Web Communications. Beyond searching for content to repurpose for promotional purposes he denies the existence of “any super-secret software” that monitors student behavior on social media.
Barnett commented, “in this Internet space there is a whole group of people that are just looking to make trouble and create problems.”
In regards to online “troublemakers” and taking action against content that might violate the code of conduct, Barnett said it would be “like a heckler yelling at a comedian in the crowd.”
When students were asked in a recent survey if they would consider submitting content in violation of the code of conduct to either the Office of the Dean of Students or the Department of Public Safety, students were divided.
Fifty-six percent responded they would consider submitting offensive content, while 46 percent responded, no, they would not.
According to Donoghue, only three incidents involving “misuse of technology” were reviewed last semester.
It seems it is not that such incidents are not occurring, rather students just aren’t reporting them.
Students are reluctant to submit content to administration, according to Kelly Yorio, 15’, because, “to be honest … I don’t know if that’s really [administration’s] place or what they would even do about it.”
Submitting content to the Office of the Dean of Students or DPS “never crossed my mind” said Gonzales. “I feel like at that moment I can’t do anything to help that student or to change that situation.”
The policy of the administration is reactive. No preventative measures are in place to stop misconduct unless it is reported, which according to Donoghue’s report from last semester, it seldom is.
Students must be responsible for policing themselves to prevent an incident like Torrington or Steubenville from happening at Fairfield, administrators said.
“At the end of the day you are painting a picture of yourself. What do you want that picture to be?” said Donoghue.
“I think when you put yourself out there and there is content like that about you floating on the internet,” Gonzales said. “It should fall on your behalf to watch your image and watch your actions.”