Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

U of M probes cyberbullying on student site

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UNIVERSITY of Manitoba business dean Glenn Feltham is investigating a website created to ridicule a student dubbed "The Commerce Creeper."

More than 220 people -- some of them students at I.H. Asper School of Business -- joined the website on www.facebook.com to ridicule a business student and share tales of his alleged attempts to pick up female students.

The website was created Feb. 22 and, by Wednesday, more than 140 messages had been posted -- though members were warning each other online that it was time to shut the site.

The website featured a photo of the targeted student, apparently taken by a cellphone camera in a classroom.

"I certainly am going to be investigating, with great speed," Feltham said Wednesday. "Bullying of students by other students is quite inappropriate.

"It is first of all certainly not professional. It is not consistent with what we want from our students, and the behaviour we expect. It is an issue we must address. We do have overall expectations as to the conduct of our students."

Feltham said the business school would quickly develop a professional code of conduct on this matter, adding that he was very disappointed that no student had come forward to him to report the website's existence.

The www.facebook.com site was founded three years ago by university students in Cambridge, Mass., as a social network. It grew to include separate chat sites for other groups, including business corporations and, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, it has attracted 17 million visits worldwide and is the seventh most popular network in the U.S.

The student who created the U of M website about "The Commerce Creeper" declined to be interviewed. The student who was targeted could not be reached.

U of M officials were trying to figure out how to handle the case of cyberbullying -- an issue that has plagued junior and senior high schools in recent years.

"It sounds like something he (the targeted student) has to launch a complaint about," said U of M public affairs director John Danakas. "There is a policy on a respectful learning environment."

Taren Gesell, president of the Commerce Students Association, said he now regrets having signed on to the facebook.com website shortly after it was formed and that he did not contact the dean.

"Hindsight is always 20/20. We realize now that it's something that should have been done as it was happening," Gesell said.

"The thing with facebook, it almost spreads like a virus. Obviously, it is a serious issue. We have to look at what sort of professional conduct we support," he said.

Gesell said that students who created the website might not have realized how much damage they can cause. "There is sentiment among people I've spoken to that it has gone too far."

He said the CSA would meet with Feltham "to discuss possibly implementing a professional code of conduct."

A student who provided a password for the Winnipeg Free Press to get into the facebook.com site said some business students "have severely crossed an ethical boundary."

He said it is a "juvenile and vicious group" that includes members of the Commerce Students Association executive.

The student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that facebook.com is a "social networking website popular among college/university students.

"While some have even posted on the page, simply adding themselves to this group condones this behaviour and the group's existence. This is an embarrassment to the faculty of management," the student said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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