Since the beginning of the academic year, various social media sites have been growing in popularity at Trinity, with a focus on various Facebook pages. Pages such as Trinity Confessions and Overheard at Trinity are popular among students as a platform for opinions and ideas. However, the sites that have faced opposition from different sources, as has the recent, but short lived, Facemash.
These forms of social media are, to students, a way to voice their opinions and convey their feelings on various aspects of the university both publicly and anonymously. Sophomore Kimberly Polasek said that, so long as the pages are done legitimately, they can be an effective tool.
“I think that anyone should be able to post anonymously,” Kimberly said. “It is a benefit for students and lets them feel more comfortable in voicing their opinion.”
This type of discourse is seen as an important aspect of university life, both at Trinity and elsewhere. These types of platforms are generally positively viewed by students as well as professors and the administration. Communication professor Aaron Delwiche said that allowing for this type of speech fosters a creative and open campus, even with the aspect of anonymity that many of these sites incorporate.
“I think it is an effective way for students to voice their opinions, and, since it is not regulated or controlled, this leads to positive and creative ideas on the pages,” Delwiche said. “I think it [anonymity] is essential for discourse. It goes hand in hand with cowardly comments that any social media site suffers from, but these are a minor problem.”
However, as with any platform for free speech, dissenting opinions and ideas are sure to surface. The recent Facemash page, for example, featured ID pictures of Trinity students, allowing users to “˜vote’ between photos, ranking the top ones. This page, while only active for a few days due to a violation of the University’s property and privacy rights, faced negative reception from much of the student body.
“The page itself was not done in a legitimate manner, so there was no right for it to be posted,” Polasek said. “Even if it was done properly, a lot of people would not approve it and would simply ignore it.”
While often seen negatively by many this, along with various posts on Trinity Confessions, is, for others, simply another way for students to express their opinions.
“Things like Facemash are going to happen . . . it comes with free speech, but it’s better that people have the opportunity to express their opinions and ideas,” Delwiche said. “If someone says something that offends you, you can challenge it. Speak up against it and voice your own opinion, or simply turn away and choose not to participate in it. People say stupid things and things I don’t agree with, but I am glad that they are able to say such things freely.”
In the face of such opposition, pages like Trinity Confessions have had to adjust, with the Facebook page currently no longer operating. Communication assistant professor Zhaoxi Liu stated how it is really up to the students – the audience – to control the content here on campus, since they are the driving force behind what remains popular or dies off.
“Anyone can create a page . . . then they can see how students react,” Liu said. “Once it is out there, it is up to the students; if it is viable content with meaningful exchanges, then it will continue. If it is not contributing in a positive way to students’ lives, then they will not participate.”
To students, faculty and the administration, these pages, and social media in general, while not perfect, are bound to be a part of the culture here on campus.
David Tuttle, dean of students, recognizes the impact of social media and stated that the university is open to allowing such pages to operate wholly free of regulation.
“If we try to monitor the sites it really quickly becomes an issue of free speech,” Tuttle said. “As a university, we stand for a marketplace of ideas, and the concern is if it uses our logo or seems sanctioned by the university.”
The university is keen to let the sites run themselves, but it is also cautious when it comes to issues of harm towards individuals.
“The question is, when does it move from anonymous posts to harassment? Once people are targeted as individuals, the line is crossed,” Tuttle said. “All students have a right to live, work and study free of harassment, and that is when we start to dig deeper into these situations.”
In the end, one thing can be agreed upon: social media is becoming more and more a part of the community here at Trinity, and, for professors and students alike, it is not going away any time soon. To many, such as Delwiche, students are lucky to attend a university where this type of discourse is possible.
“We are lucky to live in a country where we can express any idea without fear of prosecution,” Delwiche said. “In regards to the university, I have been impressed with the administration’s attitude towards these things; there is a genuine respect for freedom of speech.”