Aiming to create a “healthy” online environment for the Ateneo community, Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) released the 2021 Social Media Use Policy yesterday, despite the backlash from students on Twitter when its proposed details made rounds last May.
Possible censorship problems, broadly defined terms, and wide-ranging prohibitions were the issues raised by the community when the policy’s early unpublished draft circulated among concerned stakeholders, of which some details were published on Twitter by Atenews.
Aligned with the core values of the institution, the newly approved policy aimed to “guide the University community in providing safe spaces for self-expression, fostering respect for persons and institutions, advancing truth-based individual formation and social transformation, and promoting healthy interpersonal relationships through a culture of dialogue.”
The said policy mentioned that “social media can be a double-edged sword”, which could bridge relationships and foster discourses, but may also be a platform for destructive acts.
The Social Media Use Policy was effective immediately after its approval from University President Fr. Joel E. Tabora, S.J. last August 4.
Revisions on prohibited acts, penalties
One of the significant observable changes in the policy was the prohibited acts stated under Section 3. Formerly, these acts cited only “wide ideas” such as harassment, disrespect, humiliation, and ridicule, among others.
The newly revised version focused on legal bases in the Philippines, namely (1) The Anti-Photo and Voyeurism Act of 2009; (2) The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012; (3) The Data Privacy Act of 2012; and (4) The Anti-Bullying Act of 2013.
Prohibited acts also included relevant student handbooks, employee manuals, and existing and subsequent University policies.
The certified version now encompassed specific sanctions for each prohibition violated, specific for each unit.
Conversely, Section 2, which comprised the scope and coverage of the protocol, remained as is. The policy still included the whole Ateneo community, from students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents, to alumni.
SAMAHAN Department of Academic Affairs (DAA) Director Alfredo Javier asserted that the most influential position they could take about the jurisdiction covered was to evaluate the policy and provide recommendations directly to the administration, as a representative of the undergraduate sector.
Javier admitted there were “loopholes” in the first draft of the policy, especially in the prohibited acts enumerated which could be subject to misinterpretation.
“In my preliminary analysis of the first draft of the policy, loopholes were apparent. One of which mainly was that the illustrative forms of prohibited acts were subject to misinterpretation as no legal basis nor operational definitions of the terms were provided.”
“Fortunately, the appeal for such context was reconsidered upon its revision. But, this reconsideration still does not erase the call for an alternative systematic approach in implementing and advocating for responsible social media use,” he said.
Javier particularly noted tackling the nuance of ‘public’ in the context of social media during the deliberation of the amendment.
“For the Scope and Coverage, I tried to emphasize logical reasons for the exclusion of private messaging platforms (e.g., Messenger, Viber, etc.) as part of the platforms covered by the policy. The challenge was to negate their working definition of what is ‘public’ in the context of social media,” the DAA Director said.
The networks included in the approved policy were social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, Linkedin, Youtube, personal blogs or webpages, and other messaging platforms that may contain private and sensitive information like Messenger, Viber, Line, Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal, and other similar technologies.
No monitoring of social media accounts of the members of the community would still apply. Penalties upon prohibited posts could only be imposed if reported to or learned by specific offices in the University.
Policy sparks concerns on free speech
Some students expressed their concerns on how the policy bordered on “censorship”, affecting the way they would use their personal social media accounts.
A student, who chose to remain anonymous, recalled how several students from their department had received disciplinary actions from the Office of Students Affairs even before the policy was implemented because of their social media posts.
“Since then, students aware of this censorship implemented by our school administrators have set their accounts to private and or minimized their presence on social media. I believe that with the publication of the policy, students will surely think twice before posting and rethink their privacy settings,” they told Atenews.
For the student, the policy was “punitive instead of being formative,” emphasizing that social media was supposed to be a safe space for students to voice out legitimate concerns and opinions.
“It does not promote critical thinking, peacebuilding, and truth-seeking. It does so little in addressing legitimate concerns: injustices in the University, unfair academic policies, and quality education. Genuine concerns must be addressed, not silenced, and not tagged as ‘disrespect’ to any member of the academic community,” they stressed.
Wary that his posts could be “misconstrued as a blatant act of hostility,” a fourth-year Accountancy student Melvin Gabriel Matus regretted the policy’s implementation.
“As a student who articulates thoughts in a way that I could deliver the depth intended, the policy affects me by making me believe that every outspoken thought I give with such depth could be misconstrued as a blatant act of hostility – of antagonizing someone from the Ateneo community whose principles may not align with mine,” Matus said.
Agreeing with the policy’s take that social media engagements should not compromise someone else’s welfare through responsible use, he raised that there could be a possible misinterpretation on his posts, which could be weaponized against him should there be disagreements.
“However, any engagement of mine could be presented differently, making me feel as if the policy could be weaponized against me in order that I seek to revoke the depth of my message. Thus, I agree that we should use social media responsibly, but I regret the implementation of the policy,” he said.
Policy’s draft opposed since May
Although AdDU did not publicize the proposed policy which was presented to the University President in early May, students expressed mixed feelings and criticisms based on the details that were made available to the public via Twitter.
Some comments pointed out that the policy restricted the students’ freedom of speech and allowed “censorship” in the Ateneo community, while some thought that the policy was unnecessary since there were already existing rules that could address the problems raised.
“We all know where this would eventually lead to. Re Intervening to students’ right to fume out concerns on socmed, especially on issues of unjust policies by the administrators,” one netizen posted on Twitter.
Another Twitter user also said that the prevention and penalties for harassment and cyberbullying were already covered in the student handbook.
“Disrespect and humiliation, on the other hand, are such vague and broad standards,” they added.
These reactions were based on the earliest draft of the policy, which stated that acts such as harassment, disrespect, humiliation, and ridicule were subject to punishment.