Opinion: Students need to think before sharing
I wasn’t at the library, but when I asked my classmate what the University Police Department email was about, I was shown the video: a Snapchat with the time taken out to add text and emojis, but sent through a group text on my classmate’s phone. I was exposed to someone’s criminal sexual behavior without my consent, through social media, one of countless other students here at our college.
Exhibitionism is described by the DSM-5 as a paraphilic disorder, or sexual behavior that causes personal distress or involves the willingness to cause distress in others. Because the incident took place in public, in a well-lit library in the middle of the day, it isn’t unfathomable that this student would benefit from professional help. This student behaved in a way that gave us proof of any illness; we didn’t have to speculate, and we squandered it. But I’m not a psychologist, I’m just a witness to a video that to me depicted the quick cruelty of our social media age.
By the end of the week one student with over 1,000 followers, retweeted the video over 15 times, at one point saying “Nah he deserves justice someone go link him…”. Another posted the “Jack the Jerker” meme made from the UPD’s first email.
If indeed the student doesn’t have such a disorder and is just “nasty” as one student on Facebook posted, the reaction to the incident on social media will surely push this student further into the shadows. This begs the question: why would a body of students, so acutely aware of violence in high schools and on college campuses, be so inclined to even potentially contribute to the catalysts of such behavior?
Criminal behavior is criminal and there is no excuse for that. I’m not defending something that for some would constitute a form of sexual assault. Those who break the law deserve to be punished and this student was rightfully charged with Public Lewdness (NYS PL 245.00-A), a class B misdemeanor in the state of New York. So be it. But is the appropriate response a three-day long viral flash in the pot, given the context of the crime? I feel morally compelled to ask this question, considering the past years’ campaigns that have brought awareness to addictions, sexual behavior, mental illness and cyberbullying.
Chief of Police J. Frank Wiley ended his email marking the arrest of the student with the following statement: “Thank you to everyone in the community for reading our notice and especially to those who quickly reached out and helped us identify and speak with him. You helped make our campus safer and are proof that an engaged community makes community policing successful.”
I am sure there were numerous students who just wanted him to be found, arrested and imparted justice to fit his crime, but there is an optimism present in Chief Wiley’s send-off that does not reflect the behavior of students on social media who taunted, ridiculed, threatened and encouraged others to do the same. His engaged community consists of students who felt it more interesting to build a meme or make posters to share with their friends online.
The university and UPD cannot make any statement that notes the online behavior of its students. But those of us who found the reactions online to be cruel and irresponsible can ask our peers and our classmates to act in a way that reflects our generation’s values of tolerance, compassion and understanding of those who need help. This video is not just a video; it is the exposure of a person’s most primitive weakness. It represents the creation of a specter in another person’s life. Even without a mass internet reaction, the embarrassment of being caught will be an event on its own that will follow him for a long, long time. But for us who either saw, shared, or tweeted, it will fade from our memories, having been long buried beneath the endless hours and days of the new content we publish.