WSO member creates false identity to write letter to Record

By creating a fake Williams Students Online (WSO) facebook entry and e-mail address in the name of Clive Hall ’06, Evan Miller ’06 and Daniel Rooney ’06 tricked the Record into printing a letter in that name in the newspaper’s Sept. 16th edition.

WSO has indicated that it has no intention of limiting the duties of or otherwise disciplining Miller, the WSO member who performed the technical manipulation.

“WSO grants administrative access to our systems to any of our members who demonstrate ability, commitment and sound judgment,” explained Topher Cyll ’04, a WSO administrator and its senior member. “Limiting [Miller’s] administrative access would only deny the community a conscientious and capable volunteer.”

“I violated the power WSO vested in me,” Miller said. “I deeply regret this, and WSO and I have worked out our issue internally,” Miller explained.

He elaborated that the letter, which suggested banning beirut, was “meant to voice a legitimate opinion through a fictional guise and to satirize some of the rhetorical techniques employed on this campus.”

Record Editor-in-Chief Mike Needham ’04 did not find the satire particularly amusing. “It was an attempt at humor,” he said. “As is generally the case when people try too hard to be funny, the attempt failed.”

While Needham was disturbed by Miller and Rooney’s letter, he was at least as upset with the way WSO has handled its aftermath.

“I think their response has been generally insufficient and, to a certain degree, arrogant,” he said. “That the initial reaction from a number of WSO members was ‘lighten up’ does seem to indicate they take their responsibilities less seriously than might be hoped for.”

Needham indicated that while this particular incident was not overwhelmingly serious, it showed what could happen when a group such as WSO abuses the trust that the College community places in it.

“It’s not a stretch to say this could have been far more damaging,” he said. “WSO members have the ability to create personas which are extremely difficult to expose as frauds and allow the members to make accusations that are either false or which would not be made absent the cover of the false identity.”

While Needham highlighted the trust that community members place in WSO’s facebook, Miller countered that it is in no way official. He added,“WSO has no exclusive domain over student directory services – in fact, anyone with the right know-how can set up their own.”

While WSO does seem to have the exclusive right to discipline Miller for doctoring its facebook, his creation and use of a fake e-mail address may have violated the College’s computing and ethics policy, which bars impersonation through the use of forged e-mail.

“In this case, it sounds like they weren’t impersonating another individual, but that it was still inappropriate and fraudulent,” Dinny Taylor, chief technology officer of the College. “I see this as a violation of both community standards and the computer use policy.”

Citing disciplinary privacy, she declined further comment. Miller also declined to discuss the particulars of his e-mail and its relation to computer usage policies.

Both Miller and Cyll stressed that this incident ought not tarnish WSO’s reputation on campus.

“The Record and WSO have equal and ample right to be angry at me about this,” Miller said. “I have apologized to both parties for violating the trust that WSO’s users, including members of the Record, place in WSO’s services.”

“While the Record and WSO should treat the infraction seriously, I feel that the larger campus has no cause to be concerned because it was a singular and benign breach of WSO’s otherwise unimpeachable history of providing excellent services to the campus,” he said.

“One individual’s regrettable mistake does not negate a long history of excellent community service,” Cyll said.

Despite the limited severity of this particular incident, Needham indicated that the Record will alter its policies to prevent such forgeries from happening again.

“Every error that is published in the Record is something that we take very seriously and try to find ways to avoid repeating,” he said. “This is certainly no different. Had we known it was possible for WSO members to create students in the facebook that do not exist, we would never have relied on them in the first place. It is fortunate that this flaw in our system was exposed over such a minor issue as we can now take measures to assure it will not happen in the future in a manner that could harm the paper or community.”

This article was not subject to the approval of any Record editors.