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Popular Student-run Facebook Pages are Good Fun but Raise Ethical Questions

Photo by mkhmarketing from flickr

By: Evan Jay Peterson

Fads and trends are like a Facebook status: they come suddenly and gain a lot of popularity before they eventually become irrelevant. For this reason, Facebook, a place for fleeting posts and content, was an apt home for one for the biggest fads from earlier this year.

Near the end of last year, students across North America began to create university compliments pages on Facebook for their respective university community. These Facebook pages display anonymous compliments directed at other individual students.

On September 12, 2012, Students at Queens University created a Facebook profile entitled Queen’s U Compliments. This page was the first of its kind and the spark that began the fad according to a November 29, 2012 Time article.

Loyola students have adopted this idea, creating LUC Compliments on December 9, 2012 according to the page. Its posts are generally intended to be funny, sincere or some combination of the two.

For example, one post from February 16 reads, “Addie Dougherty is such a cool cat. And that is funny because she likes cats, a lot.”

Another post from January 30 reads, “I think every girl on campus wishes that they could date Andrew Gaillardetz. Just sayin’.”

LUC Compliments has 1,997 friends as of May 2nd and featured dozens of posts per month during the first few months of its existence.

Some Loyola students expressed disappointment at the fact that students were using anonymity to exchange compliments.

“I think it’s really cool, but I think that it’s a shame that these people don’t feel comfortable voicing these comments to people,” junior Mary Mantia, 21, said.

Other colleges have adopted this idea as well. Saint Louis University students have created a SLU Compliments Facebook page. U of I Compliments has 115 likes as of May 2nd. The student-created Crimson Compliments of the University of Harvard has 2,411 friends.

LUC Compliments has inspired several offshoot pages as well, including LUC Secrets and LUC Love Notes.

According to the LUC Secrets page, LUC Secrets was founded on December 16, 2012. The page has 3,416 likes as of May 2nd. The website’s description reads, “Share your secrets and insights. Lets build a community. Send a secret via Facebook message or email.”

“I love every moment of it. I love the comments,” junior Mary Mantia said.

There are potential ethical issues that can arise from anonymous-user websites such as LUC Secrets.

One anonymous student provided the following confession:

“One time when I was doing rounds on the 4th floor of Simpson, the entire floor reeked of weed. Thinking I was going to have to document somebody, the other RA on duty with me then said ‘It smells like coffee.’ I looked at them briefly rather perplexed and replied ‘Yes, yes it does smell like coffee,’ and we continued our rounds.”

Though these Facebook pages mean well or least do not seek to harm, they have become problematic in certain cases. Dr. Fletcher, a journalist and journalism professor at Loyola University of Chicago, spoke on the potential problems that accompany the use of these web pages. Fletcher teaches a course on ethics in communications.

Fletcher identified three major issues with these anonymous-user Facebook pages.

“There are three major issues with these pages: anonymity, the potential for hate speech and the invasion of privacy,” Fletcher said.

Some students have used this online anonymity to harass other students without consequence. FOX 29 in Newtown, Pennsylvania reported on January 29 that high school students at Council Rock North High School created a Facebook page for anonymous insults.

Senior Alex Sobel of Council Rock North said, “some of the comments are pretty harsh.” One student was called “literally to (sic) stupid to insult,” for example.

In response to hurtful comments like this, the page has since been taken down. No students were identified or punished for posting hurtful material on the page.

“Anonymity is problematic. Under the guise of anonymity, you can say anything you want,” Fletcher said.

As the Council Rock North situation showed, anonymous pages like LUC Love Notes and LUC Secrets open the door for hate speech. Without any concrete sense of accountability, users can harass and ridicule each other with virtually no consequences.

For example, post #631 on LUC Secrets reads, “There’s this girl who sits next to me in my math class who smokes. Her breath is so rancid it literally smells like an animal died in there or her mouth is decaying EVERY SINGLE DAY. I constantly feel like I have to throw up just sitting next to her which is why I can’t wait for this (expletive) class to finally be over.”

Fletcher suggested that once users establish an atmosphere embracing insults, hate speech becomes less taboo, encouraging users to behave differently. Otherwise innocent bystanders can become aggressors.

“I think the unique thing is that you have an audience of hate-speech and bullying that can become a chorus,” Fletcher said.

The invasion of privacy is another real issue with these anonymous-user pages. The public forum can be a place for users to share each other’s private information without consequences, keeping certain people from enjoying their private lives.

Post #162 on LUC Secrets reads, “I recently learned that my neighbor in Simpson enjoys chaining her boyfriend to the bed and whipping him. I now wonder every time I here (sic) a noise coming from their room…”

On the Council Rock North insults page, one student posted another student’s mobile phone number, saying “text for a good time.”

Though these posts were likely meant as a joke, private information was still made public without proper consent.

The Council Rock North high school insults page was perhaps more innocent and harmless in nature than other websites, but the possibility still remained for graver encroachments on personal privacy. The page administrator, who in the cases of the university sites is normally a student, is the only individual who knows the identities of those who post. Accountability is low to nonexistent. There is not much to stop users from posting each other’s personal information.

There is plenty of good fun to be had with these pages while they are still popular, but users must be wary of the potential for harm and must use these pages responsibly.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.