Another classic example of a University failing to understand social media.
Fitfinder, the site where students can ‘find’ attractive students on University campuses, was taken down off the internet following pressure from Universities.
Since the launch, the site has received over 5 million hits. Rich Martell, 21, the final year Computer Sciences student, who founded the site which launched in April, has been fined £300 for “bringing the University into disrepute.” Universities were also worried that the site was distracting students from their studies during the exam period.
Fitfinder is a social network – the site provides the channel, the users provide the content. This same principle applies to Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and the thousands of other social networks available online.
What the site has which was unique, however, was the pure focus on students in Universities. It provided a bit of mild humour to dull the pain of revision period. Students were able to see ‘finds’ in the various areas of their campus. Incredibly the “Hartley Library” and the “Hartley Lawn” were classed as two separate areas of Highfield campus.
The site came under criticism by women’s groups citing sexually explicit comments left by users.
Southampton Students may remember the Facebook group “The Hartley Security Guard needs to chill the f**k out”. The group became (in part) a channel of abuse for certain students to voice their (often-explicitly worded) complaints. This is unfortunate, as the group itself was founded purely to make a (possibly valid) point.
Now while I am in no way encouraging the verbal abuse of University staff or students, I can’t help but get the feeling that UCL has missed the point here.
Fitfinder was a site run by a student who happened to be studying at UCL. The site was not hosted by the University, or associated with any academic project. The content on-site was not even exclusive to UCL. Yet bizarrely the University is withholding Mr Martell’s degree until he brings the site down and pays a fine of £300.
UCL’s reasons for the banning of the site don’t add up. Students spend far more time on the mainstream social networks Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, yet the University have taken no action against them. UCL claimed that Fitfinder had “brought the University into disrepute”, despite there being no official ties between the site and the University. Ironically, UCL has brought itself into disrepute by threatening to withhold a student’s degree due to a project that has nothing to do with UCL.
Social media sites are not responsible for the content of their site shared by their users. That is the nature of social media. It is the opinions of users, not the site itself. Institutions cannot take action against a company when its users are to blame. Mr Martell commented, “If a UCL student posted something offensive on Facebook would they hold Mark Zuckerberg [the site’s founder]responsible?”
In defence of UCL and many other Universities, social media is very new. What is said and published about them is out of their control. With Facebook and other similar sites, users (students) have a real voice. If someone has a strong opinion on something, they will voice it. Universities have their worldwide reputation to worry about, so it’s no wonder they tread carefully in this area.
Fitfinder is atypical of this, however. It is not a channel for students to voice complaints about their University, it is a site where the vast majority of comments are in good humour. Methods can be introduced to reduce the offensive content. Understand that the site is only one month old and very much in it’s infancy.
And with regards to the site distracting students from their studies – that is the very nature of the internet. If a student cannot access Fitfinder, they can simply play Google Pac-Man, visit Youtube, or access one of the millions of other websites available on the web.
I predict that UCL will cave to media pressure and allow the site to run again by the end of the week.