Michigan State University paid a public relations company $ 517,343 to monitor and track Social media activity around the recent case of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, reported the Lansing State Journal on Wednesday.
Many of the social media accounts that the New York-based firm Weber Shandwick monitored included accounts of survivors, their families and notable celebrities, journalists and politicians. The Lansing State Journal included screenshots of Weber Shandwick's report to MSU that cited tweets, retweets and specific comments from survivors. The public relations firm also highlighted the news articles that created spikes in the Nassar talks.
MSU's Office of Communication and Brand Strategy had initially been collecting and tracking the information, but delivered most of the work to Weber Shandwick in December.
"Michigan State University hired Weber Shandwick in December 2017 to provide crisis communications counseling and additional media personnel to handle the large volume of communication tasks related to the Larry Nassar affair," a university spokeswoman said. HuffPost. "The relationship ended in early March and we are not working long together."
Although this type of monitoring is not uncommon in criminal cases, the report The explosive captured intense media attention and caused many Nassar survivors to criticize surveillance as invasive and precipitating.
Weber Shandwick responded to the criticism in a press release provided to HuffPost.
"Most of our work involved a crisis lawyer to deal with the tragedy, we were not hired to monitor the accounts of victims' social networks." As with any task, we sent our clients traditional media and social networks. publicly available related to the horrific tragedy at MSU, including statements made online by the victims, "the statement said. "The victims were and continue to be the most important voices in the conversation"
Criminal defense attorney Stuart Slotnick, who is not affiliated with the Nassar case, told HuffPost that although the move MSU may seem unethical, is not unknown and generally does not violate any law.
"Monitoring social media accounts is not uncommon in the world of litigation, although it may seem unseemly, by monitoring the accounts of crime victims, MSU could have been proactive in addressing complaints by listening directly to the source," he said. "There are no legal implications for monitoring social network accounts, as long as they are public and not private accounts"
I was absolutely disgusted to learn that MSU was using such an invasive tactic. I felt violated again.
Larissa Boyce, survivor of Nassar and former MSU gymnast
Still, many survivors feel that the university unfairly invaded their privacy. Discovering that MSU was watching them all the time they were screaming for justice has made many survivors feel they are being attacked once again, and by the very institution that so horribly failed them in the first place.
"I was absolutely disgusted to learn that MSU was using such an invasive tactic," Nassar ex-pioneer and survivor Larissa Boyce told HuffPost in an email. "I felt violated again"
Boyce, who says that Nassar started abusing her when she was 16 years old in 1997 and continued until 2001, she told Kathie Klages, gymnasts trainer of MSU, about the abuse the year it started. Klages, who has since retired, told Boyce that he did not understand the medical procedure and sent the teenager back to Nassar.
After all that Boyce has endured at the hands of MSU, he said he is not surprised by the most recent movement in the university.
"Sadly, I'm not surprised, because this is another example of how [MSU is] more concerned about protecting their brand than the survivors," he said. "They have been saying that they are on our side, but this proves once again that they victimize us again and try to find ways to attack our character It's time to start looking at their own house! That money should have been used to check the computers and social networks of all their employees! "
Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, reacted on Twitter to watch news on Wednesday .
"If MSU wanted to know about me and other survivors, they could have talked to us." We had featured offers [to] to meet with them, "he wrote.
Nassar served as a doctor from the USA Gymnastics team and for several different sports teams on the MSU campus. In the course of two decades, she sexually abused more than 260 girls and women under the pretext of receiving medical treatment. He recently received three concurrent sentences of 60 years, 40-125 years and 40-175 years in prison for child sexual abuse and child pornography.
Although Nassar will spend the rest of his life in jail, many survivors have asked to drop their heads at USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee. UU And specifically MSU, claiming that those institutions allowed the abuse of Nassar.
The lawyer John Manly, who represents more than 100 victims of Nassar, also tweeted his disappointment: "Michigan State paid $ 500,000.00 in January to spy on Nassar's survivors and their families on social media.The MSU Board was copied into these reports. No member of the Board had the moral courage to say that this is wrong, for, not one, it is a shame at MSU, it is a shame for each and every one of the trustees. "
Morgan McCaul, a Nassar survivor and a current freshman at MSU, explained to HuffPost how invasive she felt when she discovered that the university had been following her social networks all the time.
"While MSU tracked our social media claims for accountability and fairness, they ignored and allowed another predator, and they did so at an incomprehensible cost," McCaul said, referring to Nassar's veteran boss, William Strampel, who was recently arrested on multiple charges. of sexual misconduct for alleged sexual harassment and assault on female students of MSU.
McCaul told The State News, the student newspaper of MSU, she believes that this is possibly the worst thing the university has done.
"They try to militarize our own pain, trauma and self-expression against us, and really, this could be one of the worst things I've seen them do so far," he said.
Kristen Houser, director of public affairs at the National Resource Center Against Sexual Violence, told HuffPost that it is a difficult situation to unpack, because what MSU did is not uncommon, but it does not change the way it affects survivors.
"It is totally legal and common to control social networks and comments on the news, everything is in the public domain, and that is something that any agency in crisis may want to do," said Houser.
"On the other hand, when victims who have already experienced that an institution does not respond to them in a useful way discover that this institution has also been specifically monitoring their social network accounts, it is easy to understand why that would feel intentional. , even though it is in the public sphere, "he continued. "It can make a person feel white"