An offensive Facebook page which claims to be produced by students living in Belfast, has been condemned by both the University of Ulster and student unions. Though thought to be an isolated incident, this highlights the harm that can be caused by inappropriate use of social networking sites.
The page, which was set up at the end of August, features three pictures of different young women walking home in Belfast in the morning after an evening out, and contains sexually derogatory comments. It also details male students' experiences and asks for past or present stories about incidents in the Holyland to be posted on the page – or posted privately if the poster wants to be "discreet". Stories of drunken antics are the most common.
The women in the photos appear to be wearing their clothes from the previous night out. Most are taken from a distance behind the women, but one is head-on. They are not identified, but some of the comments speculate about their possible identity.
The site, which has attracted 7,000 'likes', also contains stories from men about sexual encounters with women, fellow students in the Holyland area of the city and descriptions of incidents involving women who were under the influence of alcohol.
On the site, the page's editor has requested feedback on whether or not they should post three "extremely rude stories" that would provoke a serious backlash from women if released, because of arguments about the "respect thing". One response said "name and shame", another, posted by a woman, said "what should you do? Post them, duh," and another said, "when women are looking it posted, then post it".
University of Ulster Students Union President Claire Flanagan said she was "horrified" that young people living in the Holyland area were being identified and pictures taken, and unknowingly being posted on the site. "It's a form of bullying and behaviour that can't be condoned. We can only reassure any of our students who have been affected by it that they can avail of support from their student union on any of our campuses. I will certainly be contacting Facebook and trying to get the site taken down and from our point of view I'll be continuing to try and monitor Facebook so that if more sites like this are created, we can take action before it gets widely circulated."
Flanagan added "We would also ask our students to disassociate themselves from sites like these and not encourage the irresponsible individuals who are setting them up in the first place."
Vice President of Equality at Queens University Student Union, Jessica Kirk, commented "Obviously we can't really control what goes on social networking sites, but I do think it's a sad reflection that there are students out there who set up such pages. I would just like to reassure students, we are going to look into it."