Starting this fall, Georgetown’s Code of Student Conduct clearly defines punishments for cyberbullying and online harassment. After extensive changes, the code clearly defines harassment, hazing and bullying to include “physical, electronic or verbal” acts that “can be reasonably expected to inflict fear, to intimidate, to incite violence or to force someone to do something against his/her will or self-interest.”
These policies are certainly an excellent step that will hopefully deter episodes like the one last spring in which a student received a death threat via the anonymous Georgetown Confessions Facebook page. At the time, Georgetown could offer only protection against the death threat, but the school had neither the administrative nor investigative tools to punish the person who sent it or the Facebook page administrator who posted it. Georgetown was vulnerable to this form of hate speech, and it seemed there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Late last semester, this editorial board called for changes that would make the university’s position on cyberbullying clear, and that is something that has certainly been accomplished by these recent amendments. Admittedly, however, university disciplinary procedures interfering in student social media is dangerous territory and a step that both students and the Office of Student Conduct would be right to be wary of.
In order to prevent progression of university cyberbullying policy that could cross the line into undue monitoring of students’ online presence, students should carefully consider social media posts and their effects on the community at large. School policies can deter bigoted, threatening and offensive posts only to a certain extent. At some point, the burden lies with students to remain responsible and respectful online.
It is promising that these code of conduct policies meant to protect and benefit students have been improved. As long as these changes are treated as a work in progress and revised when a path to navigating the faceless issue of cyberbullying becomes clearer, the policy change represents a step forward.