Given that social media and the Internet have a significant influence on various aspects of students’ lives, it is unsurprising that they also play a role in the occurrence of hazing too. Hazing no longer occurs behind closed doors; platforms such as YouTube and Snapchat now host explicit videos showcasing what were once hidden “rituals” and purported rites of passage for students. The Internet exposes behaviors that take an emotional and physical toll on students. And, when hazing is recorded, schools don’t have to guess who is participating or even leading these rituals.
Hazing Goes Public
In terms of resultant harm, many argue that social media perpetuates hazing. The National Study of Student Hazing, conducted in 2008, reported that 55% of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experienced hazing, and in more than half of the hazing incidents, a member of the group posted pictures online. The public aspect of this type of hazing only worsens the humiliation suffered by students. Time and again we’ve handled cases in which humiliating pictures have circulated among organizations and teams solely for the purpose of degrading someone. Little thought is given to the fact that the students depicted in the images and videos will have to live with knowing that their hazing is posted on the Internet for everyone to see.
The Intersection of Hazing and Cyberbullying
The combination of hazing and the Internet can also lead to cyberbullying and cyberstalking. In our practice, we’ve seen this happen with growing frequency. What starts as joking among members of a team turns into cruel name-calling and memes being circulated among group chats and elsewhere online. An extreme example of hazing rising to the level of cyberstalking involves seven fraternity members at the University of Mississippi who were arrested after using social media to harass a former member of their fraternity who reported a hazing ritual that took place at the fraternity’s house. The former fraternity member reported the incident after seeing pictures on social media.
Promoting Accountability and Change
As the University of Mississippi example highlights, social media and the Internet expose hazing, which can ultimately help bring about accountability for organizations and individuals that engage in hazing and help students promote change. For instance, in 2015, a University of Oklahoma fraternity chapter was shut down and two students were expelled after a nine second video of students singing a racist chant surfaced on YouTube. In the aftermath of the incident, students mobilized, advocating for change to promote diversity and inclusion for minority students on campus. Nonetheless, deeper reflection requires questioning why these types of chants occurred in the first place.
The Illusion of Privacy
Students must remember that nothing is private. Students risk their future the minute they engage in hazing by not knowing if the behavior is being recorded. Likewise, students should never assume that group private chats will remain private. The Internet is now just capturing what has been happening for decades. And, as student attorneys, we’ve witnessed this trend become increasingly prevalent.