ALABAMA — At least 1,500 newspapersdisappeared at Troy University when the student paper ran a story called”University Police Monitoring Facebook.”
Student editorsare questioning who stole the Feb. 9 issue — was it the campus police whodid not want the tight-knit university to know that they were perusing theonline social networking site? Or was it the toboggan-toting 6-foot man who awitness saw lugging a stack of papers between campusbuildings?
According to the dean of students, who is also in chargeof the campus police, it does not appear to be either.
”Idon’t want to go on a witch-hunt and point fingers at people and right nowI have no factual information to point to anyone,” said Herbert Reeves,dean of students at Troy University, who responded to requests for comment fromthe campus police department.
Last week, student editors at thenewspaper,Tropilitan (dubbed the”Trop” by students andfaculty), became aware the paper was missing from several distributionpoints.
Trop writer JoshuaSmith said between 1,500 and 2,000 papers are missing. Smith wrote theFacebook.com story that quoted a campus police officer saying the department wasincreasingly looking at the Web site — where students post profiles,pictures and information about themselves — to nab studentcriminals.
Smith estimates the paper lost about $375 from the theft.The Trop is free for the first copy,but costs 75 cents for each additional copy, according to a policy printed onevery paper.
Reeves, the dean, said he is investigating the theftrather than the campus police department because of talk that a campus policeofficer might be the thief.
A witness reported that he saw a 6-foot,college-age, white male with a stack of the papers walking between campusbuildings the morning the papers came out, Reeves said. The witness reportedthat he checked the newspaper bin the man was walking away from and it stillcontained copies of that day’s newspaper.
However, the man thewitness saw does not fit the description of anyone on Reeves’ staff, letalone the two officers who were quoted in Smith’s article, Reevessaid.
”I’ve found nothing that points to the policedepartment,” he said. ”If someone was trying to take all the papers,why would he leave some behind?”
Reeves said despite nothaving any leads, the university is taking the incident seriously. If they docatch the thief and he or she is a student, student judicial affairs woulddecide a punishment. If the person is a faculty or staff member, theschool’s human resources department would deal with the issue.
For Smith — monetary damages aside — it is an issue ofsomeone trying to stifle the Trop story.
”If the motive of the theft was to keep the story fromcoming out, it’s definitely trampling on our First Amendmentrights,” he said.
The topic sparked debate over whethernon-students should be viewing Facebook profiles in search of illegal activity.Anyone with a school e-mail address at Troy University can view other Troystudents’ accounts.
Smith said since the issue ran, he hasheard mixed reactions from students about police looking at studentprofiles.
”Most are a little upset that they are being deceivedby the powers that be,” Smith said. ”But most understand that whileit may not be ethical what the department is doing, it is legal. Someone evensaid they were glad police are doing it.”
According toSmith’s article, the two police officers who were looking at profiles arerecent Troy graduates and still have their Troy e-mailaccounts.
Reeves said when Smith called him to interview him for thestory, it was the first he had heard of the practice. Reeves said it bothers himwhen students post too much personal informationonline.
”I’m not an anti-Facebook person, but I’mjust concerned that people put too much out there,” hesaid.
–by Emily Walker, SPLC staff writer