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Exeter University 'Spotted' Facebook page continues despite intervention

21st November 2013

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A notorious Facebook page which came under scrutiny at the University of Exeter earlier this year has continued to publish posts by students, despite concerted efforts by the university to shut it down. The page has attracted over 5,000 likes from students.

The ‘Spotted in the Forum’ page allows students to anonymously comment on other people they have seen in the Forum, considered by many to be the central hub of the university. Recent comments have included one user telling a “studious blonde” that “if you were my coursework I’d be doing you right now all over my desk”.

The page is a remnant of a social media trend from earlier this year, where students from universities across the UK would take to Facebook to anonymously comment on the appearances and actions of other students on campus. Many pages were closed down, including one site in Birmingham which was deleted after a student used the page to confess to committing a serious sexual assault during their time as a student.

A request lodged under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) earlier this year shows the lengths the university went to try to minimise the fallout from these sorts of pages. The request, which asked for all internal email correspondence about the pages, shows that university staff considered disciplinary and legal action in a bid to curb what was described as “dubious student antics” in an email from 15th January.

Internal communications between staff also criticised the Spotted pages, saying that the pages have a “tendency to stereotype women as sexually available”, as well as commenting to the owner of one of the pages that “the management of the university is understandably very sensitive about the reputation of the university”.

The university told one page owner, in a conversation on 15th January 2013, that: “the University is worried that the Spotted page will put people off visiting the Forum if they think their appearance, dress sense, or sexual availability is going to be discussed in front of thousands of people”, as well as telling the page administrator that “there is no room for debate in this matter.”

A third year English student said: “I regularly use the Forum, as do many other students, and it is unsettling to know that I could theoretically be being watched and commented upon as I go about my day to day business. It’s disappointing to see that the university’s earlier efforts to stop the page have clearly failed.”

A Students’ Guild spokesman said: “Whilst these types of pages can start with good intentions they can quickly become offensive and hurtful to some members of the campus community. The Guild will support any student who feels aggrieved by these pages to take the appropriate action should they ask for it.”

When asked about the page’s re-emergence by Exeposé, a university spokesperson said: “We asked for last year’s batch of ‘Spotted’ sites to be taken down because some of the comments made were quite personal, sometimes verging on harassment, and we received a number of complaints. If students feel uncomfortable about any comments that appear on this year’s sites, they should contact the university and we will take appropriate action.”

The administrator of the ‘Spotted in the Forum’ page could not be reached for comment.

This article originally appeared on Exeposé.

Image credit: Niklas Rahmel

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