By Arya Shukla (UG23)
The Student Government announced on Tuesday, November 10th that the ‘Ashoka Undergraduates’ Facebook group is reopening for students to join, after the platform had been shut for more than 45 days. As per the House’s decision, the appointment of moderators for the group needed to take place before the group could be reopened. The new moderation team comprises of Shauryavardhan Sharma, Pulari Bhaskar, Lavanya Sen, Rohan Manoj and Siddhartha Sreenivas. Maanya Saran was also very briefly a moderator but was replaced a day after her resignation by Lavanya Sen.
The group was restarted nearly seven weeks after an incident of doxxing had occurred on 24th September. Comments made by some students and alumni in the undergraduates’ Facebook Group were doxxed. Their identities along with the comments were leaked onto social media, which was a cause of serious concern for their safety and wellbeing.
A public statement by the SG President, reminding students of the implied guidelines of the Facebook group, was leaked as well. On the same day, the then modmins, who were graduated students, decided to begin removing all members and delete the group. The SG stepped in and archived the group instead, after everyone had been removed. The repercussions of the event unfolded slowly.
A couple of days after the doxxing, the SG sent out an email stating that the House of Representatives was consulting with some faculty and cybersecurity experts. The same email noted that the tentative date for reopening would be the 10th of October. What followed was a series of open meetings to discuss and decide the selection process of the moderator team, as part of the SG’s broader project to formulate standing community guidelines for social media platforms used by the student body.
On the 12th of October, the 6th House of Representatives unanimously decided to reopen the Facebook group. Responding to a query from the Edict, the SG President said, “Deleting shows that one is guilty; that that group was made for illegal or harmful reasons. Which it was not, it was just a forum for people to discuss all things Ashokan and otherwise.” Two weeks later, the 15-member House internally appointed a three-member panel to select five moderators from a pool of candidates whittled down from the application form. The shortlisted candidates would then have to be confirmed by 2/3rd majority or 10 members of the House.
The Undergraduates Facebook group is, among other things, a meeting ground for incoming Ashokans, an academic resource for current students, a marketing forum for student organisations, and a place of reminiscence for the undergraduate alumni. All these functions are only enhanced in an online semester. Prior to the events of doxxing, the appointment of modmins was an organic process where each outgoing modmin would pick their successor, and the SG was represented by one seat in the erstwhile modmin team which was normally held by the incumbent Technology Minister.
The decision by the House to retain and subsequently reopen the group was in part based on considerations of free speech. The SG President said, “We share statements of solidarity, statements of condemnation, there are students who write op-eds, it becomes an easy target so some type of political flack is always directed. The alternative is that we as a campus do not discuss political issues, which I think will be a sad day for any liberal arts institution.”
The process followed in light of this incident leaves many questions unanswered. Will this method of selection of moderators be a one-off or will it be convention going forward? What is the future of the autonomy of our public spaces and the modus operandi of resolving any future contentions in the community spaces of Ashoka? Most importantly, how much regulatory and legislative influence will the Student Government have over the digital sphere of Ashokan life?
The process of joining the group can be found in an email from the SG dated 10th November with the following subject: “Reopening the Undergraduate Facebook Group!” Read here an op-ed analysing the doxxing incident as part of the social media culture wars.