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Disturbing messages

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Published: 17 Mar 2011

Given the article in this week’s Tribune and other media reports about a McGill student’s posts to Twitter that contained disturbing and threatening messages, I want to reassure the McGill community that the University takes such incidents extremely seriously.

In all such cases, we report the incident to Montreal police, who investigate and determine whether further action is needed. In addition, the University quickly refers the matter to the appropriate disciplinary officer, who determines if a student needs to be excluded from campus in order to protect others and who can also pursue disciplinary action.  In addition, we have a threat-assessment team that reviews such cases in a timely fashion.

We are aware that some who learned of the messages were very concerned about their safety, and understandably so. We have tried to reassure them. There have been suggestions that the University should have issued a broader alert to the community about the messages. But we must avoid causing needless panic or delivering “false alarms” that could lead to complacency in the event of real threats in the future.

McGill took a number of actions in this case, many of them behind the scenes – not simply to satisfy the demands of Quebec’s privacy law, but because we want some of our responses to remain confidential to shield them from the eyes of those who could cause harm.

Please rest assured: If the tweeted messages were deemed to pose a real threat, we would have taken very different action.

What we have ended up dealing with is a downside of social media – the ability of an individual to disseminate inappropriate or threatening messages to a global audience with the click of a mouse or a send button. All members of our community should be responsible in using the Internet and social media. There can be serious consequences for irresponsible use.

For information on McGill’s procedures about how to deal with violent, threatening or worrisome student behavior, please visit http://www.mcgill.ca/deanofstudents/intervention/.

Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning)

Morton J. Mendelson

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