Many students on college campuses have been learning a hard lesson recently: Private correspondence and social media pages don't always stay private, particularly, it seems, when the subject matter is questionable. This week, a controversial e-mail from a Georgia Tech student to his fraternity brothers surfaced and quickly spread online. The letter advised the fraternity brothers about how best to "score" with young women, whom the author referred to as "rapebait." The letter prompted online ire and immediate action from the school and the fraternity involved.
This story, however, is far from unique. Here are some other instances of embarrassing, if not dangerous, digital foot-in-mouth fiascoes.
The Florida International University chapter of fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha was suspended recently after school officials caught wind of a private Facebook page containing questionable pictures and conversations. The page, which was "closed" to everyone but active members of the fraternity, hosted discussions about cocaine and "study drugs," as well as pictures of semi-nude women. Comments on those pictures contained obscene language and even inferences that some of the women were underage. The university told CNN it "took prompt action" and suspended the fraternity in order to conduct an investigation. Police say they are also looking into possible criminal charges stemming from the comments.
And how did all of this activity come to light? The university claimed it received an e-mail in August containing more than 70 screenshots of the supposedly private Facebook page. The same e-mail was sent to members of the media, including CNN.
In April, an e-mail from a member of the University of Maryland's Delta Gamma sorority enchanted the Internet with its colorful language. Rebecca Martinson, the sender, admonished her sisters in the profanity-ridden letter, calling them out for "LITERALLY being so [f------] awkward" at social events. The e-mail's violent claims (she repeatedly threatened to "assault" and "c--- punt" her sisters) somehow landed Martinson job offers and an enduring, if unexpected, plot of online fame, but it also marked the end of her sorority career. She resigned from Delta Gamma, and the sorority released a statement calling the e-mail "highly inappropriate and unacceptable by any standards."
The Vanderbilt chapter of Alpha Tau Omega was recently suspended after an e-mail making fun of a rape case currently under investigation at the university surfaced. The case, which concerns the alleged gang rape of a student this summer, has made national headlines, and several ex-Vanderbilt players have been charged in connection with the case.
The e-mail in question was sent to potential fraternity members and mentioned underage drinking and sex, and also made light of the case. "This will be a rape-free event ... I promise. Football is safe again," part of the letter read. According to HLN affiliate WSMV, Alpha Tau Omega's national office has expelled the e-mail's author from the fraternity. The fraternity also released a statement calling the e-mail "abhorrent."
In 2010, a Duke student inadvertently invited the world into her bedroom when she distributed a joke list detailing her sexual exploits to a few friends. Those friends sent it to other friends, and somehow the list -- complete with names, ratings and other bits of personal information about both the student and her former partners -- made it around the web. She may not have been suspended or punished in a tangible way, but the fallout from the private joke becoming public was powerful. In an interview, the young woman said she regretted it "with all her heart," not just because of the blow to her personal reputation, but the collateral damage done to those named in the document.
That was the question that led to the indefinite closure of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at the University of Vermont. The question appeared on a 2011 survey that was circulated among members of the fraternity -- and was eventually leaked. The national chapter of the fraternity announced the indefinite closure of Vermont's chapter, and also called the document "deplorable and absolutely inconsistent with our values," stating that "any behavior that demeans women is not tolerated by the fraternity."