The social media platform Fizz is currently involved in a St. Olaf Title IX investigation.
St. Olaf students received an email from Title IX Coordinator Pamela McDowell on April 3 “to address the discussion that’s been occurring on social media involving the sexual objectification of women in our community.” While the email used vague language to address the issue, many students quickly made the connection to an April 2 post on the social media app Fizz. The post featured a screenshot of a spreadsheet which described the physical appearances and sexual activity of several women in an explicit manner.
McDowell confirmed in an email to the Olaf Messenger that “there is an investigation underway through the Title IX office in connection with the Fizz post.” The Title IX Office has met with students and “members of the community implicated in the post” as part of their investigation, McDowell wrote.
Title IX is also “working with Fizz and the Northfield police to identify who posted the original comment,” McDowell wrote.
If the Title IX investigation confirms the validity of the spreadsheet and determines the individuals who are responsible for either creating or posting it, then the individuals will face sanctions from the College. Currently, no persons have been identified. “I don’t want to give what the specific sanctions in cases will be; because it can shut down people coming forward,” McDowell wrote. “However, this was a serious event, with detrimental outcomes for our community and the sanctions will be severe.”
McDowell updated students on the status of the investigation via email on April 17. “The college has been working to determine who posted, created and/or interacted with the document, and to verify the authenticity of the content,” McDowell wrote. “That process has involved dozens of interviews with members of our community, as well as ongoing attempts to gain information from Fizz Social.”
Students responded to the Fizz post and McDowell’s email immediately. The student-run Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN) has been working with students since the post. After the initial post, “generally, there was a big reaction of disgust” from students, said SARN Co-Chair Stacie Elliot ’23.
“It feels like anger from all sides,” said SARN Co-Chair Caroline Peacore ’24. “Anger from people that saw that and are frustrated by how disgusting the things on that list are and the fact that we can all believe that this is something that could occur at our school, whether after however long the investigation goes on we learn that it was real, or that it was fake.”
Peacore and Elliot continue to meet with McDowell to receive updates on the Title IX investigation. They also provide McDowell with updates on how students are feeling about the situation.
SARN has also worked to provide outlets for students to share their feelings and used their platform to model best practices to support peers, which they hope students take into account as the investigation continues.
At the heart of the conversations amongst SARN members is centering the needs of survivors. The organization is continually asking, “how do we actually center survivors in our conversations, and how do we remind our campus that those are the people that are most important,” Peacore said.
“Attacking perpetrators is not the same thing as supporting survivors,” Elliot said. “I think this campus wants to support survivors but hasn’t engaged in that work before, and so may be unaware of best practice. So I’d like to think that we’re also trying to model best practice for people by not focusing on trying to find out who did the bad thing but focusing on how we can recover from a community harm.”
The College has had difficulty obtaining cooperation from Fizz in their investigation.
In a second email to the student body on April 17, McDowell wrote that the College’s “investigation into this serious matter has been hampered by a lack of cooperation from Fizz Social.”
Fizz launched in July 2021 and was founded by Stanford University students Ashton Cofer and Teddy Solomon. Fizz did not respond to The Olaf Messenger’s requests for comment.
Fizz is not the first anonymous social media platform to find itself involved in Title IX concerns at St. Olaf. The St. Olaf Flirts Facebook page — which allows students to anonymously submit messages of affection to other students — alerted the Title IX office about a message they received during the 2021-2022 academic year.
The St. Olaf Flirts moderators employ a screening system before posting submissions on the page. “We screen for obvious things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, but the more common things are targeted negative comments, flirts for people who have asked to not be posted about, and anything that crosses the line from flirting into sexual harassment,” a Flirts moderator wrote to the Olaf Messenger. “That can be a tricky distinction, which is why real-time moderation is so important.”
Fizz’s Community Guidelines state that “our community moderators are trained to remove content that violates our community guidelines” — however, it is unclear how stringent these moderation policies are.
The St. Olaf Flirts moderator expressed their concern on the foundation of the application.“Fizz raises a lot of red flags in terms of campus culture and safety,” the moderator wrote. “The lack of moderation, the toxic nature of the posts, and the fact that it’s controlled by an external company all point to a lack of consideration for student wellbeing.”
“Our Title IX always prioritizes any incidents of sexual misconduct on campus,” McDowell wrote. “People who experience sexual misconduct can report to our office. They will be offered accommodations that assist them on campus. They are given the opportunity to report to law enforcement, have the college investigate the incident through our formal grievance process or participate in an informal process.
If you have any information about the Fizz post in question, contact McDowell or call the confidential Campus Conduct Hotline at 866-943-5787. To join SARN’s weekly Community Peer Support Group, contact Caroline Peacore at email@example.com.
Confidential campus resources:
SARN: 507-786-3777, 507-649-3367, firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Olaf Counseling Center: 507-786-3062, email@example.com
TimelyCare: Access 24/7 support via app or web browser
St. Olaf Pastors and Chaplains: 507-786-3092, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Olaf Student Health Service: 507-786-3063, email@example.com
Non-confidential campus resources:
Title IX Office: 507-786-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com