Student Groups Maintain Instagram Accounts Despite Loosely Enforced Ban

Digital illustration by Reid Alexander.

For as long as most students can remember, there have been dozens of active and inactive Instagram accounts belonging to GDS clubs, sports teams, affinity groups and other organizations. Most of these accounts, however, are in violation of school policy.

The club guidelines, which Assistant Principal for School Life Quinn Killy shared with students in September, explicitly forbid clubs, affinity groups, teams unaffiliated with the athletic department and student publications from operating social media accounts. Killy emphasized the social media section of the guidelines in an Oct. 4 email to club heads and faculty advisors.

The policy, which heads formally agreed to follow when applying to register their clubs, warns that students who run social media accounts “may be held accountable for all content posted on that site through disciplinary actions as well as possible termination of the club.” 

But the school has largely taken a different approach thus far, allowing exemptions for some groups’ accounts, leaving others be and contacting students in the hope that they will regulate themselves.

Killy said in an interview that he has distributed the club guidelines, including the same statement about social media use, annually since he assembled them over five years ago. Yet in that time, over 50 still-visible Instagram accounts related to GDS activities have been created. Killy said it is not “out of the realm of possibility” for clubs to eventually be officially permitted to use social media.

All three students interviewed by the Bit who have operated social media accounts for registered GDS clubs said they were unaware of the ban before this fall.

Senior Lauren Lemer, the head of GDS’ student-run dance company, Fata Morgana, said her club’s account was especially useful during the pandemic, when live performances were substituted for short video montages posted on Instagram. “Our social media account was our stage,” Lemer said. “The comment section was basically the crowd cheering.”

GDS storyteller Danny Stock—whose role in the communications office involves looking after the school’s online image—said that Fata Morgana was previously allowed to promote dance performances on Instagram but that its account’s approval is currently uncertain.

“We’re gonna keep doing what we’re doing,” Lemer said. “You can’t really pick and choose which clubs get to have it and which clubs don’t.”

Stock said GDS is not actively enforcing the policy for clubs that are not brought to his or Killy’s attention and that no one is searching for unauthorized accounts. “We’re just not going to dedicate our resources into doing that,” Stock said. He has, however, reached out to several accounts that violate the policy. (Stock declined to detail his communications with specific clubs.)

He explained that the policy seeks to prevent students, who are not “official representatives of the school,” from operating social media accounts publicly connected to GDS.

The club guidelines say that the ban also exists to ensure that all students, including those without social media accounts, “have access to club communication and information.” The policy encourages club heads to instead communicate with the student body via email.

Senior Ethan Cohen, one of the co-heads who manages the Spirit Committee’s Instagram account, described the school’s policy as “inconsistent.”

“I think they either gotta ban everything, which I think would not help the school at all, or just let kids make accounts,” Cohen said. “It’s gotta be one or the other, ’cause whatever they’re doing now does not make sense.”

When asked whether @gds_spirit is compliant, Stock suggested that it had been given approval before he assumed his current position. (@gds_spirit began in 2014, before the club social media policy was instituted.) “Their association in a very specific way with athletics teams did open up the possibility of the continuation of their account,” Stock added. 

That is because athletics teams, unlike clubs, may seek approval from the communications and athletics departments to operate social media accounts under a coach’s supervision, according to Stock. He said that teams’ accounts are distinct from clubs’ in that they “have a singular, unified goal in service of the school’s student-athlete community.”

Stock said that student leaders of some other non-club organizations, such as the Summit on Sexual Assault and Consent and the Policy Institute, received approval to run social media accounts by persuading administrators that “their presence would be aligned with the mission and values of the school and represent the broader community in an inclusive way.”

Junior Lucy Mezey, The Augur Bit’s former social media manager, described social media use by clubs as “low risk, high reward.” Internal research conducted by Sadie Foer, the Bit’s head of online distribution, showed that Instagram posts were the most effective method of attracting readers to the Bit’s website in the spring semester of 2021.

Stock named @theaugurbit among the accounts that violate the club guidelines. The Bit’s editors-in-chief, senior Seth Riker and junior Ethan Wolin, said they plan to maintain the newspaper’s account.

Certain accounts such as @blackatgds and @gdsmemes mention GDS but do not belong to any formally established organization, meaning the club guidelines do not apply to them. (According to Stock, however, the school would object to accounts that use GDS’ logo or falsely purport to represent the school.) 

“Because there are very likely a number of groups that are in violation, I don’t want them to panic and hide,” Stock said. “The better strategy would be to be in contact and find the right way forward.” Despite the school’s clear-cut policy for registered clubs, Stock said the school’s response may vary in different cases “because there’s so much nuance in the management of these accounts.”

CORRECTION (Nov. 8 at 4:37 p.m.): A previous version of this article misleadingly stated that GDS does not enforce its branding policies for accounts that are not run by an organization at school. The club guidelines do not apply to those accounts, but Stock clarified that the school does enforce a policy barring them from using GDS logos or purporting to be official school accounts.