Let’s talk about the Confessions and Compliments pages on Facebook. People ask a lot of questions about pages like this, which pop up all across the country. It’s time to get some information out there.
Isn’t it posting to Facebook just freedom of expression? If you don’t want to risk seeing something you don’t like, just don’t go there, right? It’s not bullying if it doesn’t name anyone, is it?
Harassment online is still harassment, and when it happens on a page that is part of the university community, it’s governed by university harassment policies, IT Acceptable Use Policy to which all students agree when accepting a university email account, and the Student Disciplinary Code which governs student-to-student conflict. Sites set up by and for members of the university community fall under these policies, and posts made using any university hardware, software, internet access, or other university-owned and provided access to cyberspace do as well.
Freedom of expression is important, of course. All our freedoms are important. But what is more important is how we use them. We might be free to practice martial arts, but we aren’t free to assault one another. We might be free to practice shooting on a shooting range, but we aren’t free to shoot at one another. Neither are we free to aim our words at one another in personally destructive assaults from behind the veil of anonymity or online identities.
We have a responsibility to one another to create and maintain an environment that fosters learning, communication and participation. We would want it for ourselves, and we owe it to one another to be mindful of the impact our words can have. The ability to post anonymously makes it all too easy to say things we might not otherwise say — why is it okay if you are anonymous? It’s just as hurtful. The fundamental action of taking pot shots at people from behind a screen of anonymity is not ethical. It also hurts anyone who reads it, not as the target, but as a bystander. Bystanders and witnesses to abusive behaviour are affected too.
A student noted that UNB and STU are small campuses, and people can easily figure out who is being targeted, with or without names. The feeling created where people are not safe in community space is toxic and undermining of that community. The bystander or witness impact remains a major consideration, not just for individuals, but for the overall atmosphere.
While you exercise your freedom of expression, remember to create a place you and others would want to be in.
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