As students began readjusting to live on Florida State University’s Tallahassee campus in August, two friends noticed something that scared them: Many students were socializing as if the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t ongoing. These partiers were posting videos and pictures of themselves getting wasted mask-free on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, with no apparent shame or regard for what their peers might think.
These friends, one FSU alum and one current student, decided that this was unacceptable. But rather than call the campus police or confine themselves to snide group chat gossip, they decided to turn their peers’ flagrant behavior around by posting about it on an anonymous, public shaming Instagram account and tagging the offenders. The account, formerly known as MaskOffFSU, now operates as @MaskUpFSU, and the original creators run it with the help of three friends. They comb through submissions, screenshots or screen recordings sent in by like-minded students demanding accountability from those who refuse to take public health seriously. VICE spoke with one of the people behind the account, an FSU alum, about protecting vulnerable communities from COVID-19 and why students have become so eager to snitch on their friends. VICE: Can you tell me a little bit about how the account started, and how it’s run now? MaskUpFSU: There’s two of us that do most of it, then there’s three others who help us find things to post, go through the DMs, and help us make the graphics. We had an original page, which was @MaskOffFSU.That page gained like, 4,000 followers in three days—then, it got deleted by Instagram. [That page] was more of a joke. Then, we realized that we were gaining a really big following. So we were like, OK, actually, we have a platform, so we can do more stuff with it. That's why, when we restarted the account, we kind of went with the theme and made it more graphic-oriented, so that it was photos as well as information—because we don't want to just be shaming people. We want there to be something constructive, about what’s happening on and off campus and how people can do better.
What kind of information do you think the FSU student community is missing? This is our health, and our safety, and our community! I'm nervous to leave my house, because in the past week, there have been over 700 new cases, which is a massive increase compared to what it was before.In one post, we talked about how 32304, which is the area code that FSU is located in, is actually the poorest zip code in the state of Florida. There’s a lower income community, Frenchtown, which is right by FSU. And there's also a lot of student housing complexes in that area, which means [FSU students who live there] are endangering the lives of the people who live in Tallahassee full-time, because they're stupid kids that just want to party. That was the inspiration behind the account: to protect the people who live here full-time, be it students who live here full-time, or faculty, or just the general people who live in Tallahassee and make the city run.What, if anything, has FSU itself said about the account? We had the FSU administration reach out and they were like, hey, if you have names, please send them our way. Technically, we keep everybody’s identity secret on the page, but we have talked to them and sent them names. And also, a lot of them—this isn’t a surprise—are Greek-affiliated, like frats and sororities have been hosting unofficial parties. When those happen, I'll get sent the same private Snapchat story three or four times. So, we pass all of those things along to the FSU administration, and include any Greek life affiliations they have.
What has it been like to deal with negative feedback?We have a good amount of angry people in our DMs, but it’s all such basic stuff, like, “fuck you,” “you guys suck,” “we hate you.” And I'm like, wow, you got me! [laughs] We also had people who were threatening legal action, but we did our own research on it, and none of what we're doing is illegal. It's also all within Instagram community guidelines. We’re not making any money off of the page, and everything we post is a submission. We ask everyone’s permission, and basically everyone is like, yes, please post it. We have had some burner accounts threatening to expose us, or saying that they know who we are. But they don’t know who we are. When we made the account, we made it with a separate email, so unless they’re using—I was gonna say using an IP address tracker, but we all have a VPN anyways. So, there's no way they know who it is.What about the positive feedback? We get way more positive responses. We have people reach out to the account all the time and say, “Thank you so much for doing this, I'm immunocompromised and I live in Tallahassee, but I still have in-person classes to go to!” or “Thank you for posting about this, someone in my family is immunocompromised and I live in the dorm—if I get sent home, I don’t know what to do!”How do you feel about monitoring your literal peers? To me, it’s like this: After I left school, I moved to Tallahassee—during quarantine, I didn’t go home, and I can’t go home because of my family situation. I literally have not done anything for the past six months. I sat in my apartment, I saw one other person. And now, I risk getting COVID because of these stupid people! I know people who have gotten COVID who’ve been safe, but because everyone else is being so unsafe and there has to be a degree of exposure from grocery shopping or in-person classes, they’ve gotten it. It’s like snitching, but… not in a bad way. To contextualize, we had more than 99 DM requests yesterday. I cleared it out down to about 60-something, then, when I woke up, we had 99+ again. So, we’re getting a lot of submissions, and we’re getting a lot of the same ones. We’ve gotten one picture four different times, and it’s something that’s not on the person’s Instagram, it’s from their private Snapchat story. So the fact that people are like this is not OK, and just snitching on their friends, I kind of love it. Because it's some level of accountability, where people are being stupid, they're posting about it, and then their friends are like, “No, no, no, I’m gonna expose you!”Follow Katie Way on Twitter.