JONESBORO, Ark. – While the report of an alleged rape at Arkansas State University has many concerned, some insensitive social media comments are highlighting another problem: too many don’t take rape allegations seriously.
The initial report came from KAIT, who said the incident was reported around 11:34 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, in the 2500-block of Aggie Road on campus. The alleged rape took place Wednesday between 8:00 p.m. and 9:22 p.m., the report stated the police call log said. Because all parties “were known to each other,” there was “no timely notice” provided to campus about the alleged incident, A-State said in a statement.
Once the report was published to the Region 8 News Facebook page, social media comments were made as is often the case on any news story. One comment attracted significant attention:
It isn’t certain if “James Harmon” is a real person or this is a fake profile, as NEA Report was unable to find the account. It also it not known if he is being serious or if he was trolling – the act of trying to offend people online for the sake of personal entertainment. The only two certainties are that the comment was insensitive to the situation and many were offended by it. Several contacted NEA Report to voice frustration.
LaShea Robinson of Jonesboro was one of those who couldn’t believe her eyes. The post, which remained visible for several hours, disgusted her to the point of taking action.
“This is exactly why women don’t come forward,” Robinson said. “What if the victim read that? What if it caused them to commit suicide or something? That’s just messed up!”
Robinson decided to phone KAIT General Manager, Chris Conroy and ask the comment be deleted. Several, including a sociology professor at ASU, called Conroy, Robinson said, and several called parent company Raycom Media, too. After leaving a message, asking him to delete the comment, Robinson said she received a returned call.
“He called and did nothing but cut me off and made excuses,” Robinson said. “I told him that I have nothing else to say to him! I told him I’ve already called Raycom. He got angry.”
Others posted on social media they had contacted the television station to ask for the comment to be deleted. Despite the requests, for hours, the comment remained. Several said they were told the comment couldn’t be deleted because it did not violate Facebook policy.
“Just got off the phone from KAIT,” One woman posted – a professor at A-State according to her profile. “They told me that they can’t moderate all the comments (untrue– lots of org’s have moderators) and that because this doesn’t violate FB standards, they can’t do anything about it and they can’t infringe on someone’s freedom of speech.”
Freedom of speech as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the moderating of comments via social media – especially outrageously offensive comments like calling rape part of “college life.” Since the comments are being posted on a private entity’s website, Facebook, one must agree to follow terms and conditions before utilizing the platform and part of those terms cover offensive material.
In addition to those terms, KAIT has made public its own policy prohibiting offensive Facebook comments. In August, 2015, Region 8 News implemented its own social media policy, with Conroy, himself, utilizing his A Better Region 8 segment to discuss it.
“We delete any post we deem offensive—be it racist, sexist, ageist, or just plain mean,” Conroy said in an editorial about the new policy. “Not only that, we will ban the user if they persist in attacking anyone or anything.”
Yet, the horrible comment remained online for several hours after KAIT staff had been made aware of it.
Following the litany of calls and posts on social media mounting even more anger, minds changed and the comment was deleted.
“They should have done it earlier,” Robinson said.