As outgoing senators shared solemn goodbyes and incoming ones watched on the Zoom call, one parting piece of advice was unavoidable in the last full senate meeting of the semester: Social media conduct matters.
When they weren't passing three bills — two of which were related to the internal protocol of an Associated Students of UNM State of Emergency — and a resolution acknowledging the hardships brought on by COVID-19, several ASUNM senators spoke on the virtual presence of those within the organization.
Outgoing ASUNM President Adam Biederwolf was the first to raise the topic during his final presidential report.
"For all the incoming senators, I hope you all enjoy ASUNM — stay off Twitter," Biederwolf said. "Just know that all the work you do is for the students, don't get caught up in the politics, stay true to the students."
This led some ASUNM members, like incoming Senator Sarah Ann Polsin, to post, "no, I will not stay off Twitter" and seasoned Senator Emma Hotz to post "thank god for freedom of speech" on Twitter shortly after Biederwolf made the comment.
Although Biederwolf clarified after the full senate adjourned that his comment was "kind of a joke," he remained committed to the sentiment that social media has been divisive for the student government body.
"We've seen a lot of drama on Twitter — this semester particularly — and it's just created a lot of drama that's split our team up this semester," Biederwolf said. "I think every student has their right to freedom of speech, and Twitter is a great platform to use that on, but I just want next year's team and next year's senate to stay away from drama because it does split up an organization."
During both the ASUNM presidential election in March and the ASUNM senatorial election in April, critical tweets about candidates flooded the student government corner of Twitter.
This behavior was decried by outgoing Senator Michel Rivera during his closing comment.
"I've seen social media being used to bash other people, or shame them for what could've been a simple mistake, or in the heat of the moment," Rivera said. "My advice is to not use social media to bash people."
Rivera referenced a tweet by Chief of Staff Jacob Silva as an example of what he meant by the "mean" behavior seen on social media.
"You know, comments like 'I can't wait to see ASUNM burn to the ground' and other comments familiar to it that I've seen, it's just an example of bad sportsmanship that shouldn't be tolerated in ASUNM," Rivera said.
Silva posted the tweet immediately following his loss to Mia Amin in the spring presidential election. He deleted it an hour later.
Rivera went on to say that he doesn't harbor any resentment but said behavior like this contributes to the student body's negative perceptions of ASUNM.
"To the people I've alluded to, there's no hard feelings here," Rivera said. "I just hope that y'all are more mindful of what you say and do, because believe it or not, these sorts of things are what give ASUNM a bad name and here we wonder why people don't like ASUNM sometimes."
After superlatives were dished out and Senators Ricardo Hill and Ryan Regalado were awarded "Outstanding Senator" for the respective spring and fall terms, the meeting ended. Hotz gave her thoughts on social media's role in ASUNM afterward.
"I think that considering that people do have freedom of speech, you can't exactly limit things unless people are attacking specific students," Hotz said when asked whether ASUNM would consider a social media code of conduct.
She said although she wouldn't want to see ASUNM infringe on freedom of speech, she didn't agree with some of the backlash senate candidates faced on social media.
"Someone specifically created an account to target a student that was running for senate. So I think that is definitely not something that I support," Hotz said. "I would definitely be interested in just addressing it somehow, but I'm not exactly sure if we can create some sort of lawbook change, but even a resolution to address how that's not okay, I would definitely be in support of that."
When asked which candidates were facing the backlash, ASUNM faculty advisor and Student Activities Center Director Ryan Lindquist warned senators that divulging their name may infringe on Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) territory.
FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of students' education records, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It's unclear how divulging a student's name in this context violates FERPA.
"I think that becomes a matter of FERPA," Lindquist said. "I think if that candidate wants to come forward and share their story, they're welcome to do so, but I think it's best if you guys don't identify that individual for those purposes."
And so the candidate did.
Noah Dowling-Lujan ran for senate during the April elections and said he faced abundant backlash from current ASUNM members and anonymous accounts alike across Twitter and Instagram.
"I saw a post from this dude, Matthew Zank, I think he's on senate, but it was just like, 'Noah Dowling-Lujan is using his platform to disparage students,' something like that, but I wasn't doing any of that," Dowling-Lujan said.
Senator Zank, a Greek Life member, posted a 23 second excerpt of Dowling-Lujan criticizing parts of Greek Life culture during the candidate forum — such as racist comments from a Kappa Kappa Gamma member in 2018 — and Greek Life's ubiquity within ASUNM.
15 of the 20 senators are in Greek Life chapters, whether it be through multicultural, Panhellenic or interfraternity councils.
But according to Dowling-Lujan, the online vitriol didn't stop after he lost his bid.
He said an anonymous account on Instagram surfaced called "unmhomelessfree" that specifically targeted him.
Dowling-Lujan previously spoke about his own experience with homelessness during the senate candidate forum and criticized some members of Greek Life's perceptions of those experiencing homelessness exhibited at the ASUNM homeless shelter forum.
"I checked (Instagram) and 'unmhomelessfree' was the name of the account, and then they had a picture of me posted and it said 'this is the face of a rapist,' so that was pretty insane," Dowling-Lujan said. "They posted on the story 'this man scares me,' and the description in the profile was like 'homeless people shouldn't be allowed on UNM campus.'"
Dowling-Lujan said nobody in ASUNM reached out to him following the incident.
"They were silent. Completely silent, it was weird," he said.
Dowling-Lujan said he reported the account to UNM's Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), but said not much could be done because the account was anonymous. He said that although the ordeal was anxiety-inducing, it reaffirmed his desire to make change from within.
"I really want to change what's going on more, but it definitely made me feel incredibly disillusioned with the entire process we have at UNM," Dowling-Lujan said.
Alyssa Martinez is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @amart4447