EDITORS’ NOTE: The students who run the OU Confessions and OU Crushes Twitter pages were given anonymity as a special exemption in this story. Normally, we do not offer anonymity unless we feel as if the information is unattainable otherwise. In this case, both Twitter pages operate under anonymity and we thought it appropriate that they be given the same distinction.
Social media-savvy Bobcats probably know that two OU-themed Twitter accounts sprang up two weeks ago -– @OU_Confessions and @OUCrushes. The accounts operate by tweeting anonymous content sent to them from students.
That content – be it tales of debauchery through @OU_Confessions, or the proclamations of secret admirers through @OUCrushes – garnered a lot of attention. After around two weeks of existing, both twitter accounts currently sit at more than 5,000 followers with about 1,000 tweets each.
Even some of Speakeasy’s staff members received anonymous affection:
“Maybe I’ll work up the courage to tell @lbirk5 that I have a major crush on her one of these days.”
— OUCrushes (@OUCrushes) March 15, 2013
“Nikki L. from speak sleazy, her humor is a great thing to pair to her looks” — OUCrushes (@OUCrushes) March 14, 2013
However, it seemed as if both accounts had run into trouble after @OUCrushes was mysteriously suspended in the middle of the day on Mar. 14. Though their account was fine, @OU_Confessions tweeted out this policy change soon after @OUCrushes’ suspension:
Deleted all tweets that mentioned names. To whoever sent that message to us: law enforcement is not needed. Apologies to those offended. — OU Confessions (@OU_Confessions) March 14, 2013
These both occurred after the satirical student publication AVW Newstime’s Twitter account posted this:
@oucrushes is just a Twitter of anonymous sexual harassment.
— Newstime (@AVWNewstime) March 14, 2013
The @OUCrushes account returned after a few hours. According to the three OU students who run the Twitter account, they were given no actual notification from Twitter of any misconduct. They chalked it up to Twitter’s self-defense mechanisms against spam.
“We were suspended because people were blocking us and reporting us as spam,” one of the students said. “We’re assuming (it was) somebody who wasn’t a fan of the page.”
Still, the question of sexual harassment claims remained, though the tweet from AVW Newstime was not the specific cause of @OUCrushes’ account suspension as many had thought. Part of the cause for worry may have been that @OUCrushes and @OUConfessions originally directed comments using full student names and Twitter handles.
Lydia McDermott, a visiting professor of women and gender studies at OU, said that she did think some of the tweets constituted harassment of others, depending on how the person perceives a tweet about them. She said because the OU name is associated with the Twitter accounts, they enter themselves into a kind of student community.
“I haven’t ever really thought about it in a Twitter context before, but I would say it (sexual harassment) is any kind of sexualized comments or behavior that make another person uncomfortable and unable to either work effectively or do their student work effectively because they are so uncomfortable based on those comments or actions,” she said.
Jesse Bethea, operator of the AVW Newstime Twitter page at the time of @OUCrushes’ suspension, said that he was alarmed and continues to be alarmed by some of what he has seen.
“It’s like getting a valentine in elementary school, but, you know, the other half of that is getting something you don’t want in a valentine,” he said. “I think they’re filtering out what they see as garbage but not what the rest of us see as disturbing.”
@OUCrushes’ operators said that they received a few messages from students about being uncomfortable with some of the tweets, and decided to take a few precautionary measures.
“We have thousands and thousands of these posts and we cannot post a third of them,” they said. “They’re really inappropriate… Since we’ve gotten suspended, we’ve taken out people’s last names.”
The OU student who runs@OUConfessions said they also got messages from worried students about being singled out in such a public manner, and put similar measures in place.
“I don’t post tweets automatically. I actually need to look through each – and not post ones with names,” they said.
Both Twitter pages are reminiscent of JuicyCampus, a now-defunct website devoted to the posting of anonymous college gossip. The website ran into quite a few legal troubles in 2008 due to the preponderance of hate and defamatory speech that began showing up.
Isaac Smith, assistant director for administration of Students Defending Students at OU, said that online harassment is a difficult situation to pursue legally.
“I think a lot of that is — just like the legal system, the law hasn’t caught up with the fact that people are doing different things online,” Smith said. “Would it be possible for somebody to get suspended for online harassment? Yes. It depends on the severity of the harassment.”
Smith also said that the university generally goes by its own rules of conduct and avoids constitutional law being brought into their civil cases.
“We don’t see very many cyber-stalking cases. Usually people just don’t follow up there,” he said.
Junior journalism major Hager Halim had been mentioned at least three times in tweets from @OUCrushes.
“I wouldn’t wanna do anything about it, but I do consider it as sexual harassment,” Halim said. “The first one was flattering – but when I’m walking around I do get creeped out because people are now really watching… I don’t really have a say in it. Everyone’s excited about it (the Twitter pages) but I do get kind of worried.”
McDermott said that she thought conduct online often reflects cultural and social norms that reinforce aggressive behaviors toward sex. Anonymity also makes it that much easier for people to express desires that might make others uncomfortable.
“It’s difficult because a university should be a place that fosters freedom of ideas and therefore freedom of speech,” McDermott said. “But it’s sad if that freedom of speech devolves into making crude or harassing comments about people.”
McDermott and Halim both said that they were nervous about anonymous harassment being connected with OU’s name. The situation is exacerbated when just about anybody – regardless of enrollment – can post comments anonymously.
An anonymous support network
However, McDermott also said that anonymity can be a force for good.
“The fact that people want to do this (post anonymously) would suggest that they maybe feel inhibited about expressing those desires in another format,” McDermott said. “We’re a weird society when it comes to sex, I think. We flaunt it all over the place but we’re really puritanical about our morals… it is a serious contradiction in our society.”
As Halim said earlier, some of the tweets can be flattering, genuine expressions of affection. The Twitter pages are a way for people to connect outside of normal social circles.
The pages also provide a way for students to connect and share support with one another. Last Monday, a student anonymously posted this Tweet to @OU_Confessions:
“I seriously have been contemplating suicide recently. My grades suck, I’m losing friends, I’m so lost. I just want to be done.”
— OU Confessions (@OU_Confessions) March 18, 2013
Students and administrators both responded with words of kindness, providing multiple avenues of ways to get help:
Interim Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones started following @OU_Confessions soon after the tweet was posted, and stressed how important it was that the student realize they are not alone.
— Jenny Hall-Jones (@JennyHallJones) March 18, 2013
Anonymity has its purposes, especially when students feel like they are in a safe enough environment that they can post information that is then tweeted out to thousands of other students. McDermott said that people will often be too self conscious to directly approach others with their concerns or desires, and so the internet presents an opportunity for an expression of those emotions.
She also said that anonymity can be a way for people to talk about personal issues that they normally would have no outlet for in social life.
“There are some things that you want to tell somebody but you can’t. This is a way to get things out there,” @OU_Confessions’ account owner said. “This account proves how crazy people here (at OU) are but also how caring they are.”
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