Last week, Dalhousie University and an animal activist identified as Amy Scott turned Facebook into a bizarre cyber battlefield when they locked horns over the university's use of animals for medical trials.
Dal lashed out at Amy Scott's Facebook group, "Stop Dogs and Puppies from being murdered at Dalhousie University," claiming it was "defamatory" and "fraudulent." Enraged by the allegations Scott was making and denied an opportunity for a voice on the site, the university tried to have the group destroyed.
"When the creator removed the wall and removed any opportunity to have discussion or anyway to reach her, that's when it became a one-sided false argument and at that point we were really left with no alternative," says Charles Crosby, the media relations manager at Dal.
Scott justified her actions by writing, "sorry had to delete the wall, too many complaints from people." Crosby believes the real reason is that "some people were taking her to task over what she was presenting as facts.
"The ethical and humane treatment of animals is of such utmost importance to us that to hear a suggestion that some of these researchers are behaving somewhat unethically towards the animals in their care, that's where it went over the line," says Crosby.
Crosby says that Dal has been unable to contact Scott.
"There's no way to reach her. And that would have been our first preference. To actually talk to her, present some of the facts as they really are and have a bit of a discussion about this."
The university then considered launching its own group in response but ultimately decided against it—"We didn't want to get into a tit-for-tat," explains Crosby.
The chosen course of action was to call upon Facebook to remove the group. Dal completed an initial form stating why the group should be removed and then made a similar submission to Facebook's legal council.
"We haven't actually had two-way discussions on this. It's mostly been us submitting our information and what they call the justification and then suddenly the group came down," says Crosby.
"It's not control that we're seeking here. As long as the debates and dialogues can happen, that's what's most important to us, as long as those avenues are created."
Shortly after releasing an article on the Dalhousie University website announcing its cyberspace win over Scott, the anti-animal cruelty group reappeared on Facebook, but with a difference—the wall had been put back up.
When asked over the wall what her next step will be, Scott wrote that she was planning to meet with Dalhousie this month with a petition she started on another website.
As far as Scott's concerned, the war with Dalhousie has just begun.
"I am appalled at Dalhousie's spin doctor, but not surprised. It is hard to go up against a large university with lots of money and power," she writes.
A bizarre element of the dispute is that no one has actually been able to speak with Scott. While she partly responded to specific questions via Facebook, she has not granted a phone interview. Neither Dalhousie representatives nor any other reporters been able to speak with Amy Scott, or verify her identity.
Regardless of who the instigator may really be, she, he or it, is now no longer protected from criticism.
"I don't like it when people don't have the facts and start making accusations," said Robin Adams, a Bio/Med Masters student at Dalhousie who is currently conducting research involving animals.
Adams said there are very strict processes researchers have to go through before they are allowed to conduct animal research. Although reluctant to comment on Scott's specific accusations, Adams understands the sensitivities to animal testing.
"Nobody in the scientific community enjoys the fact that they are killing animals. They don't want to do it but the thing is they can't get the answers they need without using those systems."
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Excellent piece. Thanks, Maggie.
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