The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 23, 2013

Not all love local online ‘love confessions’

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — A trio of short-lived Twitter accounts apparently created last week by Mankato high schoolers were a way for secret admirers to send an anonymous valentine to a classmate.

But the Twitter accounts played host to lewd displays of public affection, and Twitter shut them down Friday after the school officials brought them to the social media company’s attention.

The Twitter accounts — @KatoEastLC, @KatoWestLC and @KatoLoyolaLC — may have been based on a Facebook page started under a similar premise by and for Minnesota State University students called “Kato Love Confessions.”

That Facebook page, created Monday, was still up as of early Saturday night, though it had generated complaints of its own from university staff and students. It skyrocketed in popularity, earning 6,850 “likes,” more than the city of Mankato (about 5,800) but fewer than MSU itself (about 8,300).

As of Friday, it wasn’t clear who was behind any of the pages, though Mankato Areas Schools Supt. Sheri Allen said the district was close to identifying the students behind the East and West Twitter pages. She said she couldn’t say whether any students had yet been disciplined.

Allen said the Twitter feeds were a distraction for students and staff this week and said she was grateful for the parents who called to tell the district about them.

The accounts for both Mankato East and West were shut down around 5 p.m., but the West account was back up later that night.

The Loyola account started tweeting Friday afternoon but had apparently went offline after only about 90 minutes and 50 tweets. The language was toned down — “hiney” for buttocks, that sort of thing — but the formula was the same: an anonymous compliment, sometimes naming the intended recipient.

Shelley Schultz, Loyola’s interim administrator, said a parent who thought the Twitter posts were inappropriate brought them to her attention Friday night.

At school, the posts sparked hallway conversations but weren’t a distraction in the classroom, she said.

When asked whether or not the posts would be grounds for discipline, Schultz said it’s difficult to say without knowing all the facts about a situation. One factor would be how the person being written about felt about it, she said.

“If it impacted another student’s reputation or another student’s feelings about themselves, definitely we would have to look into this further,” she said.

College page spurs debate

The Facebook page created by MSU students drew complaints from some students and staff who found its content offensive, university spokesman Dan Benson said.

“Many of the people whose names are listed object to it,” he said.

While the posts themselves are anonymous, many of the comments include the names of people to whom others think the post is directed.

The person or people behind the page said in a Facebook interview with The Free Press that they could see how someone might not like being identified this way.

“However, we do not have a say in who people choose to tag and will soon be posting a statement to our followers on our page to ask that this be regulated by them, or to find another means of informing a friend if they believe there’s a post about them,” the person wrote.

Some posters on the site suggested the university had no business interfering with a Facebook page created by its students.

Benson said MSU is concerned in general about the welfare of its students.

“When a concern is brought to our attention, we certainly want to look into how we can ensure that the welfare of our students is respected,” he said.

Benson said competing values are at play, such as free speech, and the university is not taking action other than to tell people who complain that they can bring their concerns to Facebook.

He also noted MSU is campaigning to improve civility.

But is Kato Love Confessions uncivil? A graphic compliment could be flattery to one person but discourteous to the next.

The page’s administrators say they will take down a comment if someone complains about it. They also wrote on their page Thursday that they would edit submissions to only include a first name and last initial.