Discussion feature removed from CWU Connect app following political arguments

The+discussion+feature+was+removed+from+CWU+Connect+app+%28above%29+after+political+arguments.

Abigail Duchow

The discussion feature was removed from CWU Connect app (above) after political arguments.

Abigail Duchow & Bailey Tomlinson

CWU moderators removed the discussion feature on the CWU Connect app after students arguing about the U.S. Vice Presidential debate started attacking each other last Wednesday, Oct. 7. The arguments first centered around racism, sexism and both major U.S. political parties, and culminated in personal attacks and the creation of a Change.org petition calling for the removal of one student from the platform.

Vice President of Public Affairs Kremiere Jackson did not respond to a request for a comment on the topic. Orientation Director John Mounsey, who is a moderator for the app, also did not respond.

On the app, a notice reads “The CWU Connect communities will remain disabled until further notice. Sorry for the inconvenience.” As of midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, the discussion capability remains disabled.

According to several students, the discussion feature of the app was disabled around 8:30 p.m. last Wednesday, then brought back up for a period of time. Around 11:30 p.m. that night it was disabled without being reinstated.

CWU is a government entity as a public college, and as such has limited ability to block or control user’s interactions on social media without violating their First Amendment rights. CWU has linked student’s login information in the app directly to their student accounts, and encourages students to download the app at orientation events.

According to the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “an official cannot limit interactions based on viewpoint, but they can limit other kinds of interactions. Depending on the circumstances, a person can be blocked for posting personal threats or profane language, including in accordance with the social media platform’s terms of service.”

The terms of service held by Involvio, the proprietor of the app, and to which each participant on the app must agree before signing up, specifies that there are rules of conduct when using the app. 

“If you post something to this Site, such as comments or other content, do not post anything that … is fraudulent, hateful, unlawful, threatening, harassing, abusive, obscene, or discriminatory,” the terms of service reads. “You also must comply with all applicable laws and contractual obligations when you use this Site.”

According to several student sources, the arguments began focused on politics.

“It turned from a political battle to people just attacking one another. People were throwing a lot of allegations around last night,” an anonymous student said. According to the student, some of the allegations were that CWU struggles with issues of sexism and racism, that all boys are ugly and that all white people are bad.

Many comments were made in response to posts that included accusations that the university is sexist and racist.

Several students said the following message was the one that escalated into personal attacks. This is reportedly the point that marked an increase in personal attacks against other students in the app.

“What happened during the debate, Hanna [Haile, a CWU student] and some other liberals were bashing Pence, Trump and the Republican Party and I made a post and the liberals started to comment and I said to one guy, ‘Did Hanna offer you sloppy toppy and that you could be small spoon for saying that?,’” another anonymous student said. “Which really made them mad. Then a guy said I was sexist for my remark. And then [Haile] started bashing all guys and playing victim over the whole thing.”

The anonymous student said they think the comments shouldn’t have been deleted.

“Banning the community section I think was a bit far…I think that people should’ve been suspended from being able to post, not everyone,” the student said.

Haile, a senior studying marketing and sports management, said some of the argued topics were about President Trump and white privilege, as well as her claim that CWU doesn’t value people of color. She said people think white privilege isn’t real, and that made her mad. Haile is Ethiopian and Indian, and said she gets “weird looks” from strangers in public, which scares her.

“As a person of color, we have to work even harder to get things,” Haile said. “Even just walking down a street, it’s so scary honestly. It’s like you really don’t know what’s going to happen to you.”

Haile said her comments on the app were deleted, and that it wasn’t fair in her opinion because a majority of the comments were not starting arguments with people.

“I’d say, within that night I started calling out people a little bit, but the thing was they should have controlled the few people [because] it was the same five, six people coming at me,” Haile said. “I feel like if only they were removed the problem would have been solved, but again, the school really didn’t do much about it because they banned a lot of us from commenting and they let [others] keep going and bully people.”

Bryce Jacobsen, a freshman business major, said Orientation Director John Mounsey was the person in charge of the discussion feature the arguments were taking place on. According to Jacobsen, there are multiple moderators for the app, but Mounsey was the one deleting messages during the arguments, including backlash Haile was receiving. Jacobsen said Mounsey posted in the discussion that targeting students would not be allowed on the app.

“It became a whole mess of posts getting deleted for a full hour, then followed by the chat section being completely removed from the app,” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen said while he believed some of the moves taken by the moderator were warranted, there should be a system for dealing with any “problematic or hateful” use of the app that doesn’t punish everyone.

“The app has a lot of upsides, especially during these times, and it is a shame that it is no longer available to use for the rest of the student body that was not involved in the incidents,” Jacobsen said.

The Change.org petition, requesting 100 signatures to have Haile banned from the CWU Connect app, was created by undeclared freshman Aidan Hutchins. As of 8:30 p.m. Monday night, it has received 48 signatures, and several of the responses left under ‘reasons for signing’ read “Fuck Hanna.”

“I started the petition because from the start of school people had issues with [Haile] on the app,” Hutchins said. “She was always making posts attacking different groups and then would play victim. I think personally all parties involved crossed some lines throughout the night.”

Hutchins said he agreed with the moderator deleting comments and taking away the discussion feature of the app.

“I think it was the right move,” Hutchins said. “I feel like how people acted on the app was not how it was intended to be used.”

Hanna Haile said she saw the petition on the Connect app when the link to it was posted on the app. She said she felt like it was an “immature and childish act.”

Haile said she was experiencing bullying on the app before the night the discussion feature was taken down. She said she posted comments asking if anyone wanted to hang out or get food with her and received rude comments in response. She claimed that when white people posted the same type of comments, they didn’t receive the same backlash that she did.

“People are just bored, it’s [COVID-19], everyone’s just angry,” Haile said. “I felt like I was just targeted completely, I could have [written] a petition back, but again, that’s childish, it’s disrespectful, it’s just wrong.”