In August, a student-run Instagram account began posting pictures of students breaking COVID-19 rules at Northeastern and Boston universities.
“Anything from just not wearing a mask to being in too large of a gathering outside on one of the common spaces,” said Northeastern junior George Barker, the campus editor for the student newspaper, The Huntington News.
Barker said these anonymous posts triggered mixed reactions.
“It’s been a bit polarizing,” he told GBH News. “A lot of people were saying, like, ‘Oh, my God, look at these people. This is the worst,’ But you’d see a lot of other comments, people saying, ‘This isn’t really doing anything. Talk to the tip line.’”
Northeastern students haven’t been alone in using social media to snitch on each other. Similar accounts are being used for public shaming at campuses across the country, from Penn State to Texas A&M. At Washington University in St. Louis, a student-run Instagram account posted pictures of students not wearing masks and failing to socially distance. The anonymous account is called “WashU Covidiots.”
Epidemiologist Julia Marcus at Harvard Medical School says calling out “bad behavior” is well-intentioned, but she cautions social media shaming is already having unintended negative consequences. “Instead of creating a culture on these campuses of care and support, it’s creating a culture of policing,” she said.
GBH News’ Diane Adame contributed to this report.
To hear the full story, click the audio player above.