July 18, 2024

“[Student] has gonorrhea.”

“[Sigma Kappa] basement is the #1 hookup spot on campus.”

“Just because they are twins doesn’t mean you have to do them both.”

On Sept. 5, the anonymously managed Instagram account @witt_rumors began posting student-submitted entries to what quickly became an amalgamation of rumors, gossip, guilt admissions and personal attacks. To encourage student participation and submissions, the account owners promise to shield gossip submitters from harm. “Send what you hear. Everything is anonymous,” the account’s description reads.

Since its creation, the account has amassed over 440 followers, just over a third of Wittenberg’s total student population, but has only posted 43 times as of Oct. 12 and rarely breaks 30 likes on a post. The account also regularly uses Instagram’s Stories feature, where pictures and videos are only visible for 24 hours, to conduct snap polls and ask for fast responses from students.

The account often posts drama originating from sorority and fraternity conflicts. “Can [Gamma Phi Beta] and [Delta Gamma] just be friends,” a Sept. 5 post asked.

Some rumors deal with the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases on campus. “The Phi Psis and ‘Jesters’ started the Covid [sic] outbreak on campus,” a Sept. 6 post said.

Some posts seem to implicate faculty and staff in student activities. “[Staff member] is an underground fiji,” a Sept. 14 post said, in reference to a former campus fraternity that was temporarily removed from campus in 2018 after allegations of hazing.

Dean of Students Casey Gill believes that the rise of an anonymous, negative account is not only common, but predictable.

“Research studies have found that students find social value in the anonymity of some online social media spaces,” she said. “While these spaces can be created to promote freedom of expression in a space that lacks surveillance or accountability, they can also be the source of emotionally problematic content. When the anonymous spaces become shrouds for others to bully, promote hate speech and post other individuals’ private information, I question the intent of those that choose to continue to use and follow such pages.”

A series of Wittenberg Torch articles from Oct. and Nov. of 2013 confirm that the phenomenon isn’t even new to Wittenberg. Two Twitter accounts, @WittConfessions, @WittCrushes, existed briefly during the fall semester but were quickly shut down after a student who received unwanted attention threatened a lawsuit.

Another Twitter account, @ConfessionsWitt, has been incrementally active since May 2019, but has largely directed its ire at the university, not at fellow students. “Wittenberg doesn’t care about your well being [sic],” a Tweet from Sept. 6, 2020 said. “Wittenberg is a business operating under the guise of a non-profit, educational organization. That’s what happens when you place corporate finance experience over academics at a school. 🙂 Oops, did I say the quiet part out loud?”

Dean Gill also compared the @witt_rumors phenomenon to the existence of another rumors-style account on the ephemerally popular location-based social media app Yik Yak.

“The @witt_rumors Instagram page is similar to Yik Yak that existed for a short amount of time a few years ago,” she said. “Now, as we did then, if the university learns of behavior that would constitute a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, students can be held accountable for that behavior through the Office of Student Conduct.”

The majority of students on campus seem to largely share a negative view of the @witt_rumors account.

“I think the @witt_rumors page is pointless,” Madison Cain (’24). “I get that they feel they have a ‘need to entertain’ or ‘have fun,’ but there are better ways to entertain people than spread baseless and even damaging rumors about people. The owner of the page needs to think about the impact that the page and the information they’re spreading could have on people.”

Cameron Stought (’21) thought the page had gone a step too far.

“My thoughts on @witt_rumors? It’s an invasion of people’s privacy,” Stought said.

Some students attributed the rise in the account’s popularity to the boredom caused by the COVID-19-associated social restrictions on campus.

“@witt_rumors is a product of [students’] boredom,” Caleb Taubee (’21) said. “It’s a childish attempt to create some sort of entertainment.”

“I really dislike the @witt_rumors page,” Casey Peck (’21) said. “It’s incredibly childish, and it’s used to harass members of our community. The runner of the page is a coward, and clearly has nothing better to do… [they] should feel completely ashamed of themselves. We are adults, and they should start acting like one.”

Dean Gill advised students affected by the account to contact the university administration.

“If students are victims of inappropriate content on @witt_rumors, I hope that someone would report the information to the Dean of Students’ Office so that we can provide support to the affected students and investigate any inappropriate behavior directed at them,” Gill said.

Information on misconduct reports can be found here.

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