Fraternities' sexism and racism can no longer hide in age of social media
Fraternity party (Flickr Creative Commons)

It has not been a good week for frats – the all-male university societies named after Greek letters meant to provide students with a family-like support system.

Sordid images were discovered on two private Facebook pages operated by members of Penn State fraternity Kappa Delta Rho, including some of naked women, not all of them conscious or awake, according to a search warrant. Some were fellow students, others strippers the frat hired.

When news of one page – “Covert Business Transactions” – leaked, the frat shifted operations to “2.0”, another private page. Under one photo, a group member commented: “Lol delete those or we will be on cnn in a week.” It got 11 likes.

Penn State suspended the fraternity this week and its actions were condemned by the frat’s national headquarters.

One day later, Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national headquarters unveiled a four-part plan to eliminate discrimination in response to a leaked video of members from its University of Oklahoma chapter participating in a racist chant.

Related: Why it’s time to shut down our poisonous college fraternities | Lindy West

Meanwhile, the University of Michigan’s Sigma Alpha Mu chapter was disbanded because its members, along with their sister sorority Sigma Delta Tau, caused more than$400,000 of damage to a resort.

Fraternity debauchery is as old as the organisations’ history – and sororities, the organisations’ female equivalents, have a somewhat dissolute reputation too – but in the social media age, frats’ acts of racism, sexism and general immaturity can now be shared instantly.

Most people aged 25 and under in the US have never known a college experience without the iPhone, which was first released in June 2007.

“There’s literally sites like that that millions of people access, whether it’s or any of the other thousands of sites that post, you know, pictures of girls and post funny text conversations and Snapchat stories and things like that,” an anoymous member of the Penn State frat told Philadelphia magazine in a discussion about the 2.0 page.

For the uninitiated, has headlines like: “23 Things You Can Say To Convince Her To Go Down On You, From A Girl” and “I Got Tugged Off In My Swim Trunks During A Concert On PCB”.

Ross Bolen, the senior vice president of media at parent company Grandex Inc, told the Guardian that apps like the ephemeral messaging programme Snapchat and sites like YouTube have changed the entire campus culture, not just fraternities.

“Imagine 10,000,000 naked pictures being fired across the internet and cellular networks daily,” Bolen said. “It’s just nude chaos.”

Bolen, who is also the author of the New York Times bestselling book Total Frat Move, said the private Facebook pages and leaked videos were not confined to fraternities.

“That’s a perverted-dude-specific thing, which is most dudes,” Bolen said. “We’re just sick humans.”

The “perverted-dude-specific thing” is clear on “2.0”, where one member of a group brags in a comment about a girl he “banged”. The Facebook page has a photo of that same young woman sprawled out naked, and, according to an informant on the frat, “passed out in a member’s room”. The photographer was not with the victim that night, according to the informant’s testimony, but posted her picture online, along with one of her naked and vomiting.

Dr Frank Harris III , a San Diego State University associate professor of postsecondary education, said that such behavior was typical of college-aged men in “hyper-masculine” groups.

“We live in a patriarchal society that doesn’t value women and respect women in the way that it should,” Harris said. “These messages in a fraternity, for example, are a symptom of a larger societal issue.”

He said the improved access to such hyper-masculine displays could be good because it provided documentation of the bad behavior, which compelled educational institutions to take action and hold students accountable.

“I think in the past, without technology, perhaps there was more opportunity to strategize, to kind of hide what happened,” said Harris. “There’s no hiding when it’s public.” © Guardian News and Media 2015