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Colleges Ramp Up Anti-Poking Measures
AMHERST, Mass. (CAP) - University of Massachusetts officials have launched a new public awareness campaign in an effort to shed light on a prevalent problem among students: unwanted Facebook poking.
College campuses around the country have reported an alarming increase in the number of harassment claims being filed by and against students. Some credit their great degree programs for keeping most poking problems at bay.
Officials estimate as many as three out of five of these claims involve unrelenting poking and admit that the actual instances of unwelcome poking may be significantly higher, given the number of cases that are never reported.
Facebook's poking feature has long been the subject of debate. While some maintain that a 'poke' is simply a means of getting a user's attention or saying a friendly hello, many complain that the action is aggressive, offensive, and just plain annoying.
"It's the lamest feature ever," said UMass Amherst freshman Ashley McHugh. "In real life, you would never just go up to someone and poke them over and over again."
"Hell yeah, I would!" added a male student passing by, identified by McHugh only as 'Steve from down the hall.'
Dr. Claire St. James, professor of women's studies at UMass Amherst, is leading the university's initiative to educate students on the issue. While St. James believes that both male and female students are at risk, her focus is on the high number of women who report being harassed by constant poking.
"I've got female students lined up outside of my office, wanting their voices to be heard," says St. James. "I'm hearing a similar story from these victims: all they want is to be able to log in, update their status, maybe wish a friend a happy birthday, make sure they were tagged in the pictures from the party the night before.
"But the instant they log in, the poking begins and does not stop until they are forced to log out," St. James added.
"There's an attitude out there that poking is harmless, that it's not a big deal," Dr. St. James continued. "That kind of thinking is dangerous and if left unchecked, can quickly escalate to further undesirable Facebook activity: befriending, incessant chat requests, daily wall postings, and, in some extreme instances, drunken messaging."
"Poking is like the gateway drug of inappropriate Facebook behavior," noted St. James. "Our job is to get the word out."
Her outreach program, Poking Hurts, is being funded by Johnson & Johnson, makers of K-Y personal lubricant. David Kenney, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, says the company is proud to support a program which has the potential to not only reach thousands of women on the three University of Massachusetts campuses, but is also projected to be held up as a model for similar programs at colleges around the country.
"We are proud to be affiliated with Dr. St. James' program," said Kenney. "It has always been the hope of Johnson & Johnson, and the K-Y brand in particular, that women feel comfortable while being poked."
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