University takes action over 'degrading' page

23:48, Oct 08 2014
INTENTIONS: 'The original intent of this page was purely out of respect and nothing less,' Sean McDonald wrote on Facebook.

A university of Otago student is facing disciplinary action for their part in the Rack Appreciation Society page, where thousands of men viewed explicit pictures of young women.

A university spokeswoman has confirmed an unidentified student is facing action for breaching the university's code of conduct for students through activities related to the Rack Facebook page.

The university won't say if the student is Sean McDonald, who earlier this week outed himself as the ringleader involved in the secret Rack Appreciation Society Facebook group.

Fairfax reported the  Rack Appreciation Society page, where its 2000 members were able to view explicit images of young women, has caused outrage in Dunedin and led to a formal complaint to the University of Otago.

Many labelled it "humiliating" and "degrading" to the women who had not consented for the photos to be shared on the page.

Dunedin Police last night told Fairfax a woman had approached them for advice in relation to the page. The University of Otago proctor Simon Thompson was also dealing with a woman in relation to the page, the university confirmed yesterday.

Earlier this week McDonald defended the page's intention, saying it was "purely out of respect" for women.
He said on Facebook the intention of the group, whose members were originally asked to consider as a "cigar and whiskey kind of page", was "to ponder on the finer things in life".

"The original intent of this page was purely out of respect and nothing less," McDonald said.

"I understand so many guys took it the wrong way and posted things they shouldn't have and there is something I could of done about it, and for that I am sorry, but I assure you that there is no bone in my body that would ever want to demean and objectify women."

McDonald said the page was intended for "bikini-clad models and other professional pictures" - not local women.

However, on Facebook he admitted uploading a picture of a woman he knew with her consent. 

McDonald said it began to get out of control when photos began to emerge of ex-girlfriends, but it was "impossible" to take down the page quickly because he had to remove every member individually.

"The page was immediately taken down as soon as I heard it was causing problems," he said.

"I am sincerely apologetic to all the people who have been affected in a negative way and (I) would have taken it back given the opportunity."

 A vice president of Otago University Student Association has conceded he was a member of one of two secret FB pages causing outrage after being added without his consent. 

A second page, The Rack Awareness page, was set up to counter the original page, OUSA administrative vice president Ryan Edgar told Fairfax today, saying an OUSA executive member had been added without consent. 

"It has opened up some innocent people to unfair allegations of indecency because they have not consented to being a member of the page," he said.

Edgar issued a statement this afternoon conceding he was the executive member he had referred to.

"I was added to the page sometime around Friday or Saturday, at which point I thought nothing of it, nor did I investigate the nature of the page, I simply ignored the notification, as I do with most of my Facebook notifications," Edgar said.

"It was about a day and a half later that I saw one of the images posted, about a local Dunedin girl, where someone had referred to her as a ‘sluzza’ i.e. textbook victim blaming.

"It was at this stage that I became aware of the abusive and inappropriate nature of the page, and I left the group - which I have electronic proof of my doing so."

Edgar said earlier that the Rack Awareness page - set up to expose the Rack Appreciation page - was unfair because not everyone in the original page had consented to being in it.

"This has resulted in some people's reputations being unfairly tarnished and has also affected several relationships."

University of Otago political science student Stephanie Robilliard said two of her friends were victims of the page and embarrassed to find thousands of people had viewed private photos of them. 

"It's pretty disgusting," Robilliard said.

"These are photos shared by boyfriends and quite a few ex-boyfriends, who these girls only gave consent to - they did not give consent to thousands of people."

Robilliard said screenshots of the activity on the page were taken and posted on another Facebook group "RACK Appreciation Awareness" to expose what the group were doing. 

Martin Cocker, executive director of NetSafe, said Facebook pages created to name and shame people "unfortunately happen on a regular basis" at a regional level, such as school groups.

Facebook site administrators were "pretty good" at removing abusive content.

"The problem is [the pages] get thousands of views very quickly ... and the effect on those targeted can be very significant."