By Davis Bannister
During the first week of April, a single Twitter account complemented, sexually propositioned, or otherwise flirted with almost 700 Fitchburg State students. FitchburgFlirt users simply submitted a sentence capturing the essence of their attraction, and FitchburgFlirt tweeted it. The account was suddenly deleted Wednesday morning without any explanation or obvious cause.
The anonymously moderated account, @FitchburgFlirt, asked students to submit their “Fitchburg State crushes” via ask.fm, a social media site that allows users to ask questions to other users anonymously. These submissions were then posted via Twitter and made public.
Submissions ranged from the innocuous “Dr. Mike is a nice guy” or “That redhead is FABulous” to the overtly sexual “kid in the front of my bio class.. you could tell me to bend over and shut up any day.” With such explicit, normally hidden, thoughts being publicly expressed, the subjects of these tweets had no say over what was written about them online. Junior Paige Beaudoin was written about in two tweets. “The things I would do to Paige Beaudoin. My god.” and “…it’d be cool if Paige Beaudoin sat on my face. #unrealbooty #hellacute #bootiful.”
Beaudoin commented, saying, “Both of the tweets were funny but awkwardly sexual…just like all of the tweets on that account.” Beaudoin also expressed concern that the account could have taken a turn for the worse, transforming into an online “burn book” where users could insult others in their community without fear of retribution, adding, “I think as long as everyone stays light hearted about it and remembers it’s just a silly Twitter account, then it will be fine.”
Senior Kim Connor had a different reaction to a tweet about her, which was much less sexual in nature, “Why is Kim Connor not on the cover of magazines yet? Drop dead gorgeous.” She said, “I was kind of shocked but it was really sweet…I know who did it; it was a friend of mine.”
As all submissions were anonymous, it has been impossible to tell which tweets come from friends, from the subject themselves, or from genuine secret admirers. When you take this into account there is a very real possibility that Fitchburg students were receiving unwanted, unsolicited sexual messages without their consent.
Fitchburg State University’s official sexual harassment policy includes the language “Sexual harassment is a form of behavior which fundamentally undermines the educational, and employment goals and philosophy of Fitchburg State University. By definition, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination which consists of unwelcome verbal, non-verbal and/or physical contact of a sexual nature which has the effect of interfering with student or employment status by creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work or learning environment.”
While there have been no public claims of FitchburgFlirt causing such an environment, Fitchburg State Director of Public Relations Matt Bruun had this to say: “The nature of the comments on FitchburgFlirt and other, similar sites do not reflect the community values we are seeking to cultivate at Fitchburg State. We have moved to take down sites that use the university’s logos or other identifying insignia.”
Bruun also commented on student involvement in these kind of online activities. “As for the content of these sites, we would remind students that material shared on social media is not always as anonymous as they may think, and the university does not take violations of its Acceptable Use of Technology Resources policy lightly. Individuals identified as making threatening statements to, or about, an identifiable person may face sanctions from the Office of Student Conduct and/or Campus Police.”
The deletion of FitchburgFlirt leaves the campus community in an ethical gray area. It is currently unclear whether there will be any punitive action in response to the messages distributed. As the account has been deleted, there are guaranteed to be no more harassment on Twitter; yet for any offended by the tweets, the damage has already been done. Whatever the future holds for the presumably student moderator (nobody associated with the account was available for comment), the past is crystal clear. FitchburgFlirt was a gossipy, voyeuristic, and clearly captivating viral sensation for Fitchburg State students.