An unnofficial NJIT Instagram was born and deleted within the span of the first week of school. The ripples of this page have affected the way several NJIT students view breaches of social distancing protocols.
@exposingcovid_njit, or just “COVID NJIT,” was an Instagram page dedicated to calling out NJIT students or staff breaking social distancing protocols, including forgoing masks in the presence of others. Its description asked for its followers to DM the page pictures of people “you see around campus violating COVID pandemic recovery guidelines.” The page grew a following with what little content it had, reaching over 170 followers before making a single exposé, surpassing 400 followers by Sept. 5, when it was deleted.
The Instagram page made its first – and last – callout post on Sept. 2. It was an album of four pictures, captioned “Is it really that hard to sit in ur own seat…six feet idiots.” The first picture was simply “GET ANOTHER FUCKING SEAT” written in white text across a black background. The next three photos were screenshots of students sitting at various outdoor tables on campus. Many of the students did not have masks on, some were sitting shoulder to shoulder, and in one especially egregious picture two were sharing a single chair at an outdoor table. The commentators on the post didn’t share the same vitriol the page owner did. Comments under the post varied wildly–some commentators discussed the amount of cases currently on campus; others made jokes about pictures: “Y’all what table do you relate to the most? I pick 3.”
The Instagram page was deactivated for unknown reasons just three days after making their only callout post. The Vector was unable to contact the creators of the page before it was deleted. Why did a majority of NJIT students in the comment section dissaprove of both at the same time?
Surprisingly, most commenters decried publicly shaming the “antimaskers”, even though they themselves dissaproved of breaking social distancing protocol. It’s essential to social distance even when wearing a mask, and especially when not wearing a mask – which was the case for a number of the students who were pictured. A proper mask reduces how far particles spread, but it won’t entirely prevent the spread of particles. While wearing a mask greatly reduces the risk of the spread of the virus, maintaining proper distances further reduces this risk. According to the CDC, because people can spread COVID-19 while asymptomatic, it’s important individuals stay at least 6 feet away from others whenever possible.
Despite understanding the importance of complying to social distancing protocols, NJIT students defended the exposed students’ right to privacy. Stefan Knapik, a senior mechanical engineering student, said he was opposed to the Instagram page for the same reason as many other NJIT students, “I realize that when [sic] there is a problem it needs to be fixed, but I don’t think the answer for that is to snap a pic and roast the subjects online.”
Knapik elaborated, “we encourage people to wear condoms; we don’t shame them for not practicing abstinence. I think most of the social pressures related to COVID-19 need to be positive in nature.” In other words, individuals should be applauded for wearing masks, rather than shamed for not wearing them.
Keeping the concerns of Knapik and the other commentators in mind, what could motivate someone to publicly shame another student online? In some cases, the “blaster” might not have the time, patience or constitution for a public confrontation. One irate Redditor made a post to the r/NJTech subreddit entitled, “PEOPLE ARE STILL NOT SOCIAL DISTANCING and NOT WEARING MASKS.” They bemoaned the attitudes of their fellow students going as far as saying “it seems the rules don’t apply to freshman [sic] or other NJIT people.” Some Redditors commented on the lack of cleanliness on campus, while others questioned why the original poster refused to confront the students not following social distancing protocols. When the poster asked why he/she didn’t directly confront the students, the Redditor said, “The idea was definitely on the table, but there were many discrepancies I’d be conflicting with and thus I made the affirmative decision to not address the 20 or so individuals without face masks that were conversating there (approx. half of them WERE NOT eating/had no meals on their table).” We asked if they would make a similar “call-out” post in the future, they simply said, “[I]f something more significant comes out I’ll be sure to post something within legal guidelines of the Country and State. God bless America.”
This certainly won’t be the last time NJIT students are confronted with peers unconcerned about public safety this semester, and it’s apparent that some students have very strong opinions on the topic. How should the NJIT community handle issues with COVID-19 protocols like this in the future? It seems the consensus among most students is that the best way to improve social distancing on campus is to encourage safe practices, and to avoid shaming students especially on anonymous platforms like social media. Encourage your friends to wear masks and remain socially distanced, and if you see a group of people not following protocol either talk to them in person or report them to Public Safety. Focus on being the best Highlander you can be, keep your peers accountable with firmness and respect, and we’ll all make it through Fall 2020.