By Brooke Moody & Jacob Abrahamson–
U of L students may not be secure in GroupMe or on mass texting services, as a Living Learning Community and sorority discovered when classes started Aug. 24.
The two seemingly unrelated incidents show the potential hazards of mass texting services.
Students in the second-year science LLC in Community Park began receiving threats on their floor’s GroupMe page at the beginning of the semester, says resident Rachel Carter.
“It was the first day of classes, and someone was already being a threat to the floor,” said Carter, who recalls being scared to go back to the dorm after reading messages which included threats such as “Y’all cant stop now i want ur blood” and “Imma rape yall of u idc.”
The threats seemed to come from Jonathan Harlan, another resident of the LLC who had no idea the threats were being made.
“I was getting weird vibes from some the other students,” he said. “I thought at first that they might just not like the new kid.”
According to Harlan, a phone number entered incorrectly into the floor GroupMe allowed an unknown person access to the messages. Rather than identifying the mistake, the individual began posting the threatening messages to the GroupMe.
According to screenshots of the GroupMe, Resident Assistant Jordan Bennett threatened to contact the Dean of Students and removed the individual from the group. Students were notified that the threats were fraudulent and the floor was secure, and a floor meeting was held to explain the situation to students and clear Harlan’s name.
“I had felt really awkward know everyone thought I said those things,” said Harlan. “It put me in a bad light, but I’m glad everything got sorted out.”
Dean of Students Michael Mardis said that students should always be aware of what they say and who they are speaking to in situations like this.
“Miscommunication in a GroupMe — and I’m speaking in general terms, not to this situation — is easy to have occur,” said Mardis. “Somebody can type in a wrong phone number. It’s just good to be aware of that.”
The other situation happened to Cat Glass, a member of Delta Zeta sorority, who said she received strange text messages from an individual pretending to be a sorority sister who asked for topless pictures as a part of a fraudulent breast cancer campaign.
“I started receiving text messages from an email address that had one of my friend’s name in it and after somewhat normal conversation they started asking for inappropriate pictures and I started to question it,” she said. “I went up to her and asked her what she was talking about and she said ‘Oh no, that’s not me,’ and so I blocked the email address that was sending them.
Glass was unsure of how the individual got her phone number. She checked Facebook to see if her number was publicly listed, and it was not. The sorority also uses the service Remind101 for mass texts within the sorority.
“If they’re asking for things like that, you should go to the actual source to figure out where it may be coming from,” said Aaron Graham of U of L Police. “If you have any further suspicion, that’s when you need to notify either the police, dean of students or an RA. Get it up to a higher level so someone can look into this.”
According to Glass, the only action she took was blocking the email from the phone and notifying her friend.
“I told the girl who’s name was in the email address that the messages were coming from, but I never took any action as far as going to the police or anything like that,” said Glass.
“At this point,” said Graham, “we have not heard anything related to the texts that were received.”
Mardis said he could not offer details on how the incident was reported.
“I’m not going to get into talking about specific cases for people reporting that because that’s their individual decision for what they want to do in those different situations,” he said. “There’s nothing really to hide here, somebody had asked somebody to send messaging, texts or photos that were of themselves. That individual person will have to decide if they want to do that.”
If a student does wish to report something, said Mardis, they have multiple avenues including the Dean of Students office, the HR department (if it involves staff) or police.
“If they think it crosses over to being harassing or sexual harassment then they should field the appropriate reports with a department,” he said. “Obviously they can always go to police, and they also have additional resources if they feel like they’ve been a victim in any way. Counseling Center on campus or PEACC are good locations for somebody to go to.”
Glass said she heard of other students receiving odd texts, but did not know of anyone specifically. Graham said that he had no recollection of a similar situation being reported at U of L.
“The key thing is, that if you receive any texts or anything suspicious, you need to make that note to someone, whether that be an RA, an RD or Dean of Students office, or even the Police Department,” said Graham. “That way we can actually look into it and use our tools to investigate and figure out where it may be originating and who may be the person or persons responsible for it.”
Graham said that in order for either situation to be looked into, it would have to be officially reported to ULPD.
“In terms of any true criminal investigation, it would have to come through a report so that we would have an actual permanent record of it,” he said.
Mardis said that the university response to any situation depends on what the student wants.
“A lot of times our residence hall staff will become aware of something, but depending on the nature of it they can report that to the university police and then the police make a report, and they will ask the student about what next steps do they want,” he said. “Do they want to pursue criminal charges or an incident report? Some of that has to do with what the student who is bringing about the initial complaint wants to have done with the situation.”
For Mardis, the key is student awareness of the situation.
“It’s important that students know who they’re communicating with,” he said. “You want to be protective with your confidential information, knowing that if you’re putting something out there via text or phone or social media, that any and all of that can become public.”