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Social media and shifting standards of privacy

by The Stylus
Wed, Feb 19th 2020 12:00 pm
Issues of privacy and who has access to personal data has plagued social media sites since their inception, it is still unclear what individual rights
look like in the digital age. Photo Credits: Collin Krassowski/ Editorial Cartoonist
Issues of privacy and who has access to personal data has plagued social media sites since their inception, it is still unclear what individual rights look like in the digital age. Photo Credits: Collin Krassowski/ Editorial Cartoonist

Twitter has recently come under fire after an incident involving a SUNY Geneseo student. The incident began early last month when a student at the college created a parody account made to look like the school’s official Twitter account. The account, called “NOT SUNY Geneseo,” with the handle “@ SUNYGenseeo” was started by sophomore Isaiah Kelly in early January. 

Kelly created the account to vent student frustrations about the conditions of the campus. These include asbestos in the library and a campus wide power outage at the end of January. 

When the parody account was discovered by Geneseo they submitted a complaint to Twitter who transferred the account to college faculty. With the account under their control, administrators deleted several of the tweets, one of which read “forgot to pay the electric bill lol.” 

Twitter since released a statement saying it had made a mistake in taking this action. 

“We made a mistake and should have suspended @SUNYGenseeo for impersonation,” Twitter spokesperson Aly Pavela writes in an emailed statement to The Verge. “We’ve now done this.” 

In the digital age this brings up most people’s biggest fear. The issue of privacy is everywhere online. People getting phished or hacked, our information being stored on web browsers, it’s all enough to get anyone who uses the internet on edge. 

These concerns are not considering the ability for a corporation to hand over information to anyone, just as Twitter has done here. 

While this case is unprecedented and Twitter says they have never done anything like this before, it’s still enough to raise alarms for people. 

While privacy is the obvious issue here, many are also saying the school and Twitter impeded Kelly’s right to free speech. When asked by WHEC whether it infringed on his first amendment right Kelly said it was complicated. 

“I would say, not to the extent that some people might think, but definitely I’m still frustrated that they deleted the tweets,” Kelly said. 

Peter Gregory, a trial attorney at McConville, Considine, Cooman & Morin also said it was a concern. 

“It’s tough to say; I think it definitely raises some issues,” Gregory said. “I think the fact the student never had a chance to intervene, and it raises some due process concerns.” 

The account, which was pretty obviously a parody account considering the satirical content, was being used as a means to complain about things students saw wrong with the campus. There are several parody accounts on Twitter which are used to poke fun of celebrities and politicians or sarcastically voice their opinions. 

Twitter explained the reasons for the account being shut down, primarily citing impersonation as an issue. 

“While we believe that their @SUNYGeneseeo Twitter account was created as a parody and not maliciously, it crossed the line between parody and impersonation in several ways: 1) It used the college’s actual name and trademark design without alteration; 2) It added but later removed “NOT” from the account name, and 3) It changed its appearance several times to mimic changes the college made to the real SUNY Geneseo Twitter account in attempts to differentiate it from the impersonation account.” 

We at The Stylus feel there needs to be more privacy policies put in place. While the school wouldn’t necessarily abuse this access to gain information on the original account creator, if Twitter granted access to someone else under similar circumstances, this could have been quite bad. Within an account all sorts of information could be gained by this access. Some of this information could include email addresses and phone numbers. 

This information, in the hands of the wrong person, could be abused and used to harass someone. 

Should the account have been suspended? That is a question answered only based on Twitter’s user policies and SUNY Geneseo’s policies. But it is without question, the transfer of ownership was a direct violation of privacy of the student involved and raises a lot of concerns about the future of privacy on social media. 

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Taken by Vincent Croce:
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