Thirty-five posts were deleted from the feed of the St. Thomas app on Nov. 6, according to data on the campus cloud management page, which was analyzed by the Independent.
The app allows UST students to post complaints, questions, concerns, memes and jokes.
Ready Education Campus Success Consultant Abigail Liu said any post reported and flagged as inappropriate at least four or more times is automatically removed. Campus success consultants answer all questions and concerns an institution may have, according to the Ready Education website.
Assistant Dean of Students Amanda Villanueva is the only person at UST with all-access to the application. She said she did not know about the feature that automatically deletes posts after they are reported as inappropriate four times. She said she did not delete the posts herself.
As campus cloud administrator, Villanueva said she can restore deleted posts but has no way of knowing who flagged posts.
Junior chemistry and physics major Joel Garcia Jr. was the first student to notice his posts were being removed.
At 8:44 p.m., Garcia posted his third post of the night, which read, “UST, please tell me what I’m doing wrong. Someone’s been taking my posts down and I’m just curious what I have to change…”
Garcia said his intention with the first post on Nov. 5 was “honestly trying to find someone else gay at the school to hang out with and actually spend time for Christmas.”
His first post said, “Hey UST!!!! I’m trying to look for a bachelor for the Christmas season, so if any of you gentlemen want a Christmas bae, hit me up.” The post received 16 likes before it got reported as inappropriate four times and automatically taken down.
The three posts following Garcia’s on Nov. 6 were each posted by a different student and questioned why Garcia’s posts were being taken down. All three posts were taken down, as well.
Senior biochemistry major Enjolina Truong Iqbal said he even tried changing the topic of his post to avoid having his post being taken down.
His post said, “WHO’S TAKING THERMODYNAMICS NEXT SEMESTER? (I’M TALKING TO CHEM MAJORS) …let’s see if this gets taken down as well.”
Iqbal’s post was removed.
Garcia’s and Iqbal’s posts continued to get reported as inappropriate that night, according to the data on the management page.
However, their posts were not the only ones flagged. Junior international business major Hannah Al-Natoor posted about a lost bracelet at 6:18 p.m; it was also flagged and taken down.
Senior general business major Roxanne Cepeda posted a meme with a caption that read, “Anyone else feel like this yet? No? Just me? …. crap.” Her post was also taken down.
Villanueva said she checks the app every few days with her phone and logs on a couple of times a week to make adjustments or add new groups. She said she did not remove any posts, and that she has never done so, despite occasional requests from students.
“Normally, what happens is that like students are like, ‘Hey, Amanda, like, you need to take this post down,’ and I’m like ‘no,’” Villanueva said.
Villanueva said she was not alerted about any inappropriate posts and there were no complaints around Nov. 6.
“I’m the only one who would potentially have access to remove them,” she said. “I have not removed any posts on the app by anyone ever. It truly is a place for students to communicate among themselves, and I do my best to honor the service that the app provides.”
Posts that are removed by an administrator cannot be restored, according to Ready Education’s Liu.
Villanueva said, since a year or two ago, she has understood the app’s policy where administrators at Ready Education only remove comments that are threatening or breaks the law.
She said it is possible that the app sent her an update about the change in policies and she missed it.
“I just don’t recall it, and Abigail [Liu] has never explained it to me in a conversation,” she said.
Nonetheless, Villanueva said that as the person who brought the app to campus, she should have had better knowledge of the app before the new feature became an issue.
“I was unaware of how the app would handle posts that were flagged as inappropriate, but now that I am aware of the practice of flagging posts as inappropriate, I’m committed to reinstating posts that were removed,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva said she is going to restore all posts that were removed due to flags, unless they break UST’s Code of Conduct.
As of Nov. 13, she said she checks the app’s desktop platform twice a day, and restores deleted posts whenever she logs on.
Villanueva said the contract with the app expires July 2020. She said UST is not sure if they need to “up it again” because she’s received mixed reviews from students.
“We have to assess and see if this really is fitting our student body, and if it’s a good fit for UST in the future, too,” Villanueva said.
“I’d like students to know that the app is here to serve them. If there are ways to improve the student experience through the app, I’d love to speak with anyone who has feedback.”