Penn State students organize, vent online during campus scandal

'Fire Joe Paterno' has more than 1,000 Facebook followers.

Penn State University (PSU) students used Facebook, Twitter, and an online petition this week to pressure the school’s Board of Trustees into firing the university president after a sex scandal embroiled the campus.

Penn State’s official Facebook page is filled with supportive and angry messages from current students and alums a week after Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s longtime assistant, was charged with 40 criminal counts of sex abuse of minors.

Students, alumni, and PSU supporters took to Facebook to defend and criticize Paterno, who was fired by the Board of Trustees Nov. 9 after 46 years as PSU’s iconic football coach.

PSU officials were made aware of Sandusky’s inappropriate behavior with boys over the past decade, according to the extensive grand jury report, but did not alert police. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly has said Paterno is not a target of the investigation.

There has been a spate of pro-Paterno Facebook groups and Twitter hash tags supportive of the legendary football coach created this week. And an online petition on demanding the ouster of Penn State President Graham Spanier has drawn almost 1,800 signees and hundreds of heated comments critical of PSU’s handling of the controversy.

Students have used the Twitter hash tag #psubot – Penn State University Board of Trustees – to organize protests outside the board’s office and to tweet the latest news about what the trustees are doing – or not doing – in response to allegations that Sandusky’s crimes were known by many on campus.

“I think everyone turns to social media now as a way to stay involved and voice an opinion,” said Anne Richards, a senior political science and journalism major at PSU. “I expected nothing less when it came to the Sandusky controversy here. … [Social media] has really played an important role in everything that’s happened over the past few days.”

PSU students said they used other Twitter hash tags related to the university – including #psu and #joepa — to organize a show of support outside Paterno’s house Nov. 8, as calls for his ouster continued.

“On Twitter, you feel like you’re getting information that’s accurate and already proven to be true,” Richards said. “But it might be most useful as a forum to meet up with others in the area.”

Facebook groups ranging from “Fire Joe Paterno” to “Save Joe Paterno” have cropped up in recent days and served as sounding boards for highly opinionated discussions about how PSU should handle the longtime coach.

Several posts on the pro-Paterno page say the coach has been wrongfully vilified for his role in Sandusky’s alleged crimes against minors.

Paterno announced Nov. 8 that he would step down as head football coach at the end of the season. The university’s trustees told Paterno at a Nov. 9 meeting that they would dismiss him, along with Spanier.

Darrel Lucus, a Charlotte resident who tracked the quickly evolving Sandusky case, created the petition to remove Spanier after reading the details of Sandusky’s crimes in the grand jury report. Lucus, a University of North Carolina (UNC) graduate, said he has no connection to PSU.

“I was literally shaking with anger when I read this,” he said of the grand jury’s chilling details. “I simply could not believe the president of a major university could be as irresponsible as this.”

Lucus said his online petition had more than 500 signatures within a day of its launch, and 1,000 signees after two days.

“I know anything that involves harm to a child touches a nerve with people,” Lucus said. “But still, I was a little surprised by the reaction.”

Those in charge of PSU’s social media sites have made concerted efforts keep followers informed of the latest news in the legal scandal. The university’s Facebook page has not discouraged followers from leaving public messages, but has posted a daily reminder for visitors to avoid profanity, spam, and “attacks on other posters.”

Many posts on the school’s officials Facebook page blame PSU officials for not going to police when Sandusky was found to have questionable relationships with boys who he met after establishing The Second Mile, a charity dedicated to underprivileged children.

Still, other posts asked PSU students, alums, and fans not to condemn the university for the allegations against Sandusky.

“Please, please don’t let the actions of a couple individuals taint the reputation of the entire school,” Adrianna Moertlbauer, a PSU Facebook follower, wrote Nov. 9. “We are more than [Paterno], and we are more than football. We are a leading research institution. … We are hardworking students and professors that have so much to be proud of.”

PSU’s official Twitter account has not been nearly as active as its Facebook page. The school’s Twitter account last posted a Board of Trustee’s statement Nov. 8. The school has issued three tweets since Nov. 5.

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