Word flies as students anonymously take to social media sites to pass on rumors

by Matias Grotewold, ’13

Comparable to a wildfire or a school-wide game of telephone, rumors in a crowded environment like UAHS disperse quickly.

Whether the word is spread unintentionally or with a malicious plan — through word of mouth or by a social networking site — it has a tendency to find its way to hundreds of students and often even the administration.

In mid-April 2013, a Twitter account under the name of “@UAConfessions” began asking its viewers to submit lewd and inappropriate comments about other students that were then published anonymously on the social media website.

Although not the first of its type since accounts such as “Dublin Confessions” have previously existed, the “UA Confessions” account received a strong reaction from the UAHS administration. The administration contacted Twitter as well as several legal entities, and the account was shut down.

UAHS assistant principal Andrew Theado explained some actions the school took in response to the posts on the Twitter account.

“We contacted the [Upper Arlington Police Dept.], Twitter [and] at one point we had the [Ohio] Attorney General’s office on the phone,” Theado said. “Our main objective was to get [the account] shut down so students [could] feel safe and be educated without all that unnecessary stress and anxiety.”

Twitter responded by shutting down the account.

According to Theado, the district does not monitor students’ Twitter accounts, but investigates and responds if something on a social media site is disturbing the learning environment.

“We aren’t [online] watching what [students] are posting,” Theado said. “But we have to make sure that students aren’t being harassed and in this case they were.”

In spite of the majority of the posts being allegedly false, Theado said the administration still felt that the learning environment was being disrupted by the situation.

“I’m assuming a lot of it was false…but parents and students contacted us and if it’s disrupting educational opportunities for students, [the administration] steps in,” Theado said.

Theado did not disclose the punishments that the students responsible for the creation of the account received or their respective names, but punishments for harrassment and bullying can include suspension, according to the UAHS Student Handbook.

Regardless of the origin of rumors or their means of spreading, the administration does not step in to stop them unless they realize the educational process is being disrupted, according to Theado. With modern technology though, it can often take less than a day for a rumor to affect a significant portion of the school.

“From my understanding, the effect [of UA Confessions] was relatively immediate. The day of, in fact,” Theado said. “[Rumors] nowadays travel really quickly because of the social media.”

In a voluntary survey conducted of about 150 UAHS students, it was found that over 90 percent of students had heard of the site and that almost 80 percent of students knew someone mentioned in a post.rumorImage

While the school made announcements alerting parents and students about the UA Confessions site and the actions being taken, the survey found that most students had already heard about it through Twitter or their friends. Theado said the speed at which the rumor spread and its lasting presence on the internet worried the administration.

“A problem with things like this being said over social media… is on the web it is out there for more people to see and more people to read,” Theado said. “It is essentially everlasting and that is very concerning.”