News  McGill moderates respond to threats made on Facebook event

Student comments threatened use of violence

The Moderate Political Action Committee (ModPAC), formerly known as Mod Squad, is looking to “beef up” their policies regarding the moderation of their open Facebook group after comments made on the group sparked controversy earlier this week.

ModPAC is a campus group that seeks to “empower the McGill student body by restoring the voice of the average student.” The group formed as a result of a Facebook event that started during the five-day occupation of the office of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson last month.

The controversy began on Saturday evening with a post soliciting opinions on the prospect of picket lines and cancelled classes in the event that the Arts Undergraduate Society votes to join the unlimited general strike this Tuesday.

A McGill student commented on the post. “I’m looking into the legalities of stun guns or pepper spray for physical defence purposes to ensure I can safely go to and from class,” they wrote.

In response, another student replied that, though pepper spay is illegal, “bear spray is not.”

“Fuck it, I have a Rambo-type hunting knife,” wrote the first student. “That will have to do.”

About half an hour later the same student commented again. “I think I’ve more than made my point clear so if you’d like to delete some or most of it, go for it.”

On Sunday morning the student responded to comments posted earlier that morning. “But in all seriousness, I feel my physical safety would be in question when classes get picketed. And I have no moral qualms with using physical violence in certain situations,” the student wrote.

The entire thread of comments was removed from the ModPAC group on Thursday. On Wednesday night, Media Relations Director Doug Sweet told The Daily that the University was aware of the situation, and is “handling it appropriately.” The student in question declined The Daily’s request for an interview.

The comments prompted McGill student and Daily columnist Davide Giuseppe Mastracci to create a public Facebook note titled “ModPAC Members Threaten Use of Violence (Evidence Inside)” on the afternoon of Monday, March 5.

Mastracci said he was “disturbed” when he saw the student’s comments. “I felt that if these threats were being made by a student on our campus [then] other students on campus deserved to know,” he said, referring the creation of his note. “I just wanted to raise awareness that this sort of discourse was being used.”

“I am concerned with the person and the threat that he made, and that something could come of that, but I’m also more concerned with the attitudes that students have towards protesters,” he added.

In the note, Mastracci states that ModPAC has “allowed and encouraged members of their organization to post messages in their group which threaten strike supporters with violence.” The note includes a link to edited screen shots, compiled by Mastracci, showing the thread from ModPAC’s open group.

“If they are the administrators, they’re supposed to be guiding where their movement is going,” he said. “I’m just saying that they should basically have monitored what he was saying, and essentially not allowed their forum to be used as a place where people were threatening violence.”

The group has 121 members and 11 Facebook administrators. One of the group’s administrators, Beni Fisch, said that, in retrospect, the administrators of the group agreed the comments were “probably inappropriate.”

“It seemed fairly obvious to us that it was a sarcastic post, that he did not mean what he said, however we completely understand that [there were some] people who took it more seriously,” Fisch explained.

“We’re going to be beefing up the moderation policy to make sure that this kind of controversy doesn’t happen again,” he added. Thursday afternoon, Moon posted a code of conduct to the group’s information. In the post, Moon named students Eric Notarangelo, Alex Simakov, and Dennis Lee are the designated moderators for the group.

Moon stated that “the ModPAC does not endorse violence in any way, does not support anything that would disturb the peace on campus, and we also don’t support anything that would be against the Student Code of Conduct.”

Speaking to The Daily on Tuesday, another Facebook administrator, McKenzie Kibler, said that, due to the open nature of ModPAC, many of the people who post on the group do not reflect the values of the ModPAC.

PhD Engineering student Mona Luxion saw the comments circulating on Facebook earlier in the week, and said that she did not consider the comments a joking matter.

“We live in a culture where those kinds of comments are routinely made, and do often have consequences,” she said.

Luxion is involved with the Graduate Student Mobilization Group working with the PGSS, which voted last night to go on strike.

“There’s always going to be those who disagree with the picket lines,” she said, also noting that, “I think we’re all going to be a lot more conscious of the fact that that’s not just a verbal threat, but could actually be a threat to our physical safety.”