Instagram on Monday afternoon finally deactivated a hate-filled account created anonymously last week by a Somers High School freshman designed to “slut-shame” classmates.
The account was deactivated just hours after The Northern Westchester Examiner reached a company public relations professional seeking comment from Instagram and amidst fury among a group of Somers parents who were reporting the account for abuse.
The account was active since at least last Thursday, and remained live despite days’ worth of pleading from irate Somers parents.
“We have fewer people available to review reports because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, so we’re only able to review content with the most potential harm,” a comment from Instagram read in response to community members who reported the account for hate speech last week.
“If you don’t want to see somerssluts2 on Instagram, you can unfollow, mute or block them to hide their posts and comments from your feed,” the comment from Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, also said.
Facebook defended its handling of such matters, saying staff already finds “the majority of content that violates our policies using technology,” a company spokesperson said in an email interview.
“During COVID-19, we’ve temporarily sent our content reviewers home for their health and safety,” said the spokesperson, Stephanie Otway. “With fewer people available to review posts, images and comments, there is a greater chance that some mistakes will happen. We’ll address any issues as quickly as we can and are grateful to all of our teams working hard to keep our community safe.”
The freshman perpetrator admitted to creating the hateful Instagram accounts, a Northern Westchester Examiner investigation had confirmed early Monday.
This newspaper obtained screenshots of a direct message exchange between the Somers freshman and another local student.
“Look it was me since your [sic] being really chill,” the freshman acknowledged after being pressed by the other student. “I literally don’t know what to do and OK imma [sic] get expelled and have to go back to my other school.”
“Bro I’m really really really sorry,” she also said.
The Northern Westchester Examiner has opted not to publish the name of the freshman. The investigation has yet to confirm whether any other students were involved in the creation and/or maintenance of the account.
The bile-filled Instagram posts, on a now-defunct account called somerssluts2, featured photographs of female Somers High School students accompanied by racist, homophobic and sexist remarks.
“She was posting about girls she admired calling them out and potentially hurting their social record just so she could text them individually to tell the girls who are vulnerable that they are perfect,” 18-year-old Somers High School senior Bella Sirchia explained. “Her whole motive was merely to appear as a hero. By that, I was even more appalled that she thought it was okay to do that.”
The original Instagram account created by the freshman was shut down last week. However, somerssluts2 remained active until deep into the day on Monday.
“Black people should be band [sic],” a post had stated on the account.
“Stop trying to act like [you’re] black ugly [expletive],” read another remark.
“Down syndrome,” one caption said.
“Meet the gayrios,” another read.
The freshman offender also posted about herself in order to create deniability over her involvement.
Late Monday afternoon the Somers School District announced it had identified who officials believe created the account.
“After many requests to Instagram, and with the help of the Westchester County Police Department, the account has finally been deactivated,” an email to the school community stated.
“We are working with police to determine if others were involved in creating and/or posting to the account,” the message from Superintendent Dr. Raymond H. Blanch and High School Principal Mark Bayer also said.
“Once that issue is settled, the actions of any student who played a role in creating and/or posting to the account will be addressed in accordance with the district’s code of conduct,” the note explained. “However, please be aware that under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, we cannot release information regarding any student(s) involved or any disciplinary actions that may be taken.”
A 17-year-old senior, who requested anonymity, said the behavior was out of character for Somers.
“I thought it was so weird to see posts like that, because I didn’t think that anyone in Somers would really act like that,” the senior said.
Somers teens are still reeling from an incident they say does not reflect the true nature of their community.
“Here at Somers we are a loving, kind, and welcoming community and this account is absolutely a disgrace and is the opposite of what Somers is all about,” said 17-year-old senior Isabella De Feo.
Bayer said Monday morning that due to the ongoing investigation, he would not be able to grant an interview request.
Trooper A.J. Hicks, the public information officer at the State Police (Troop K) Poughkeepsie headquarters, said the probe into the matter is a joint investigation with Westchester County Police. Due to First Amendment protections, there is no criminality involved, even though authorities find the content abhorrent.
“It’s a civil complaint,” Hicks said. “We helped with the investigation, interviewing subjects, but it is not appropriate for the police to get involved with censoring people on social media.”