Social media has changed the world. It has drastically altered the way people communicate—anyone with Internet access can now publish their own content, talk to someone on the other side of the globe, share and access news the moment it happens, and access entire communities of people with just a few clicks.
These developments are incredible, but they can also be used recklessly and with the intention to cause harm. Unfortunately, SUNY campuses have experienced this first-hand, and as a result of such behaviors, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher last year developed a Social Media Responsibility Task Force task force to determine the best policies to have in place on campus to preserve both safety and the freedom of speech for students, faculty, and staff.
Social media was expanding in 2013-14, offering new tools and apps to communicate in different ways. Yik Yak, popular on college campuses at the time, allows people to post anonymous status updates that people can anonymously comment on and either “up vote” or “down vote.” Online anonymity is a complicated beast: it can allow individuals to seek the answers to difficult questions, find support from a community, or access emergency hotlines without having to reveal who they are, but it can also be abused. Detaching one’s face and name from a hateful or harmful message makes it easier to send that message.
Evidently, a student at SUNY Canton found it easy to post a threat to the student body on Yik Yak under the guise of anonymity in October 2014. The incident provoked a lockdown on campus and an investigation that ended with the student being indicted, and later sentenced to serve time, for transmission of a threatening communication.
A year later in December 2015, a student at SUNY Oneonta posted a threat of gun violence against the school on Yik Yak. Students notified campus police, and before the threat had the chance to take place, police were able to use information provided by Yik Yak to find the student and make an arrest.
The goal of the task force was to provide a set of guidelines for safe, proper use of social media platforms throughout the SUNY community. A combination of campus faculty, staff, and experts in digital media, the task force was able to put together a series of recommendations for best practice social media behaviors across the SUNY system. What they came up with
These recommendations are just the beginning. As changes to our online communications and networking options occur so frequently, we must do our best to stay aware of these changes and the effects they have on our behaviors.
To learn more, you can read the entire Social Media Responsibility Task Force Recommendations.
Jenna was a student assistant with the SUNY Office of New Media when an undergraduate student at SUNY Geneseo studying English literature.