College students, beware the Facebook Police

H.L. Mencken once wrote of Puritans that they had the “haunting fear that someone, somewhere is happy.” If Mencken were around today, he’d probably want to include college administrators and their haunted Internet jaunts.

The kernel of Mencken’s criticism is an unhealthy obsession with someone else’s private conduct – sex and beer, for example. University bureaucrats have been snooping through students’ personal Internet pages looking for evidence of un-Puritanical behavior, as well as that hobgoblin “hate speech,” of course.

Earlier this month, the North Carolina State University bureaucracy was in high dudgeon over “FACEBOOK VIOLATIONS” and held a rush “town hall meeting to discuss recent alcohol violations found on The Facebook. Testimonies from the students involved and presentations from key administrators will begin the meeting.” It seems that an overzealous Resident Advisor went poking through her residents’ photos on the “Facebook” online looking for violations of the alcohol policy (and goodness knows what else), then squealed to the authorities with her findings.

The Facebook is a private, online community specifically geared for college students. Through it, they post information about themselves, link to their friends’ Facebook pages, meet and greet friends’ friends and others online, join groups of like-minded peers worldwide, and so forth. They can also post photos.

Facebook is an innovating an exciting way to connect with other people. It’s wildly popular among students. And it’s apparently an irresistible tool to be abused by the campus neo-Puritans, the Facebook Police and their student stoolies.

NCSU’s student newspaper, Technician, reported on the “Facebook Violations” meeting. One “Paul Cousins from the Office of Student Conduct” was particularly incensed. According to Technician, Cousins “began by outlining his perception of the issues at hand, [which] dealt with the issue of alcohol, having photos taken as evidence and personal grievances felt by some of the students involved.” In his words: “Either you drank or you didn’t, it’s pretty damn simple.”

He then “recommended the students take responsibility and admit either guilt or innocence when faced with their interviews,” warning students, “We’ve been using photos for years — evidence is evidence” and “I can access your unity account under the right circumstances.”

NCSU is usually not the first mover in academic Orwellianism, and it isn’t so now. At UNC-Greensboro, according to columnist Luke McIntyre of the UNCG student newspaper, the Carolinian, “Recently in Cone Hall a resident was charged with drinking in the dorm [after] the resident in question took pictures of herself drinking and posted them online, conveniently linked to her Facebook account. From there her Community Advisor (UNCG’s phrase for RA) saw them and she was written up.”

Students in Kentucky and elsewhere have been brought up before student courts for the crime of Drinking in Facebook Photographs. The coordinator of student conduct at Missouri University told the Columbia Missourian, “Any time I discover that a student is violating the code of conduct, I will send a letter and have them meet with me for that violation.” Those are, however, small potatoes to the Facebook Police nationwide. Consider:

• Fisher College in Boston expelled sophomore Cameron Walker for his Facebook comments about a campus police officer. Walker wrote that the officer “loves to antagonize students … and needs to be eliminated” and tried to get student interest in a petition against the officer or try to “set him up.”

• A judicial affairs panel at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Penn., found sophomore Ryan Miner guilty of “‘sexual orientation’ harassment” for comments he wrote on his Facebook page. Miner was objecting to a gay-straight student alliance at the Catholic College, and referred to homosexuality as “subhuman.”

• Three University of Mississippi students were brought up on student judicial charges for joining a Facebook group based on their desire to have sex with a particular professor.

Like Mencken’s Puritans, apparently it has never occurred to the Facebook Police that students might not be entirely serious with everything they post. Even when they are, is it worth all the anguish? At NCSU’s town hall meeting, per Technician, Cousins “repeatedly referenced postings on The Wolf Web [another private student forum online] as disturbing him more than any other aspect of the case.”

“One user posted that the resident adviser should be crucified and burned at the stake,” Technician reported. “[Cousins] said this is going under investigation, and he intends to find the student who posted the threats.” (Raleigh readers, be on the lookout for suspicious person or persons carrying around six-foot-tall cruciforms, yardarms or railroad ties, and rope and torches.)

Don’t try to imagine the kind of personality who scours students’ personal web pages for niggling “offenses.” It’s creepy. But it’s to be expected of the “socialist microstates” that academic leftists have made of their campuses.

That observation is Darío Fernandez-Moréra’s, from his book American Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas. Fernandez-Moréra cited admission preferences, students’ socialized medical care, public housing and student meal tickets as examples in favor of his proposition. The haunted diary-readers in the ivory towers today certainly offer nothing to disprove it.