FAQ on Facebook incident

November 24, 2014

Over the course of a week, University leaders sent two messages to the campus community about a disturbing incident involving a student’s Facebook page. These messages have raised a number of questions from members of our community. While the evolving nature of the situation and the sensitivity of the matter limit the amount of information that is publicly available, the following FAQ may help members of the community better understand the context.

What started all this?
University officials received a number of reports of a Facebook posting that contained hateful and abhorrent attacks on members of our community, including a distinct threat. The posting asserted that it was the illicit creation of hackers.

What are hackers?
One of the definitions of “hacker” is a person who breaks into other people’s computer accounts without permission. In this case, the assertion was that some outside party had broken into this Facebook page for the purpose of posting this threatening message.

Why did President Zimmer and Provost Isaacs write to the campus community about this?
The language of the Facebook posting, captured in screen grabs that were forwarded to University officials, was extraordinary in both its hatred and its threatening nature. It became important to speak up, and to let those harmed and threatened by the language understand that the University was taking action.

What did the University do?
The University undertook an extensive investigation of the matter, which is ongoing.

What did the investigation find?
There are still many facts to be learned. But it became clear that nobody broke into the Facebook account in question, and that in fact the posting was not the anonymous threat against a student that it first appeared to be.

How do you know that?
The owner of the Facebook account claimed responsibility for the posting.

Why did that require a second campus message?
Once University officials knew that the nature of the incident was different than it first appeared, the University could not allow the inaccurate story to stand. That would not have served our community.

Does this mean it’s less serious than we thought?
No. As Vice President Coleman’s message pointed out, “That conclusion does not erase the seriousness of this episode, the harm it has caused to individuals and our broader community, or the consequences for those responsible. Whatever its purpose, the language used in this incident does not constitute discourse and will not be tolerated. Its use underlines questions about campus climate already raised in other contexts. These emerging facts do not in any way diminish the University’s commitment to a diverse campus, free from harassment and discrimination, as articulated by the president and provost in their message.”

What happens now with this incident?
The University will continue to investigate the situation until it feels the necessary facts have come to light, and take appropriate actions in response, including University disciplinary actions. Some of these processes may be confidential.

Will we learn more about this incident?
This is a very sensitive situation involving students, and that limits what is appropriate for public dissemination.

What is the University doing about the broader issues of climate in which this whole incident arose?
As the president and provost noted, this incident arose in the context of other questions about campus climate. University leaders will consult with students, faculty, and staff members to address those issues and provide venues for continued discussion and action steps.

UChicagoSocial: Campus and Student Life