Multiple Instagram accounts have cropped up in the last few months dedicated to publicly shaming Hillsdale students for a variety of offenses. Whether it’s a “bad” outfit, too much public affection or a myriad of videos plucked from parties or a friend’s Snapchat story, these accounts gain their following by mocking the unaware.
The accounts cross lines. At least, they do when no effort is made to conceal the identity of the offender.
While these accounts are a display of the natural checks and balances employed by a community to quell deviant behavior, targeting people online can — and often does — cross a line. Although this line can feel arbitrary, these accounts are most likely to cross it when they fail to consider anonymity.
At a school of just under 1,500, most students are able to recognize people, even if they do not know them personally. Unlike similar accounts at larger schools, where even an unblurred face will be most likely unknown, Hillsdale students are able to identify almost anybody in a public picture. This means that if and when someone’s embarrassing moment is posted to a public account, it’s not just a random person’s embarrassing moment, it’s that of a classmate, sorority sister, or the AJ’s barista.
And posts can be spun one way or another, moving quickly from lighthearted to mean-spirited in just one caption.
There is room at Hillsdale for these accounts, but only if done in a way that protects people from having those posts follow them for the rest of their time at school. College is a time of growth and solidifying identity. There is ample opportunity to poke fun at those who are purposefully wanting to stand out — those in capes or riding unicycles — but shaming those who are simply unaware, and doing so in a way that will follow them, goes too far.