What Canadian Lawyers Can Learn From the Dalhousie Facebook Scandal

As you probably know, a group of male Dalhousie University dentistry students are facing heavy scrutiny and suspensions for posting sexually explicit and hateful status updates within a Closed Facebook Group.

As Lawyers, it’s important to keep up to date regarding social media (Facebook), and the ethics and laws that surround it. Today’s post will summarize the Facebook features that were utilized by the group and Social Media Privacy.

The Event

Thirteen Dalhousie Dentistry students posted sexually violent and misogynistic status updates and images within a Closed Facebook Group. The Group was created in 2011 and it’s not known how many members there were as Facebook deleted the group. These postings became public in December of 2014.

The students in question have been suspended from clinical activity and they will not attend classes with fellow students. The Academic Standards Class Committee hasn’t decided how long the punishment will be. Expulsion hasn’t been ruled out as well.

Facebook Groups

The group in question has been deleted off Facebook; however, a Facebook Business Page supporting the male students was published on January 5, 2014. Students on both sides of the fence are discussing the incident in detail via status updates. After an indepth look at the comments, it seems as though nobody (including the media) knows a thing about Facebook Groups.

To better understand the issues of this story, we need to learn more about the privacy levels of the three types of Facebook Groups.

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* People can see the Facebook user’s profile picture and full name

Now that we are all Facebook Group Privacy experts, it’s time to think about how the postings became public. Did a group member share the explicit posts with someone outside the ring? Or maybe someone hacked one of the group member’s computer? The first option was probably the case.

What Does Facebook Have to Say?

A status update on the new Facebook Page said,  “Even if the discussion is very inappropriate, it was only intended for the people involved.” Another update said that the students violated Facebook policy and  they could be criminally investigated.

We took a look at Facebook’s Community Standards for clarity:

The conversation that happens on Facebook – and the opinions expressed here – mirror the diversity of the people using Facebook. To balance the needs and interests of a global population, Facebook protects expression that meets the community standards outlined on this page.

Violence and Threats: Safety is Facebook’s top priority. We remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm, or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence. Organizations with a record of terrorist or violent criminal activity are not allowed to maintain a presence on our site. We also prohibit promoting, planning or celebrating any of your actions if they have, or could, result in financial harm to others, including theft and vandalism.

The Facebook Group has been deleted but it’s not known if Facebook or a group member deleted it.

Conclusion

After researching many articles for this post, it became very apparent that most people don’t know a thing about Facebook privacy. A good rule of thumb is to never post anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t mind your grandmother seeing. Remember, there is no such thing as “privacy” on the Internet. Even if you have a private Facebook profile, a Facebook friend could share your pictures with other people.

Samantha Collier

Samantha Collier supports lawyers, law firms and legal industry consultants in their social media marketing efforts. Her blog, Social Media for Law Firms, won the 2011 Canadian Law Blog Awards in the Best Practice Management Category and she was recently recognized as part of “The 24: Canada’s Top Legal Social Media Influencers” from The Counsel Network.

1 comment

  1. Kelsey Vere says:

    Great post Samantha! I haven’t read much on this topic in the media, however, I have had experience with seeing people discuss inappropriate topics on social media.

    Here’s my thoughts: If the group is closed, the conversations that go on, as long as they don’t violate Facebook’s terms, should be permitted. However, if the group is in association with the school or the program in any way, shape, or form, and the school has knowledge about it, they should reprimand the students (assuming they have a policy in place prohibiting the negative discussion involving the school) for violating their policies. If the school was not aware of the group, then they can’t be held liable. However, they should consider paying closer attention to this in the future and outlining a social media policy for students.

    These conversations should be happening in private chats (Facebook messenger) as opposed to a group where the conversation COULD leak to those not within the group. Just the same as you would in-person – have the conversation in a private room – probably at home with your buddies instead of in the hallway at school.

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