Vindicat’s bang list: what now?

Over the past week, plenty of questions have been raised about the ‘bang list’ from Vindicat. Can the RUG do something about it? Or the courts? Can sharing something like this go unpunished? And is Vindicat ultimately accountable? We’ve created a list of all the most important questions – and their answers.
By Laurien van Ulzen / Translation by Traci White

Is distributing this list punishable?

According to Groningen criminal law lawyer Mathieu van Linde, yes. It’s about defamation, which is an attack on a person’s honour or their good name. The criminality of it is dependent upon how widely the list was distributed, he says. ‘If someone shares this list with one other person, that is not necessarily punishable. It’s about whether the person distributing it intends to give the list more notoriety by spreading it around.’

The question remains whether that was the intention of the Vindicat members. Vindicat rector Stijn Derksen is under the impression that it was initially spread among a small group. ‘Subsequently, it was shared with more people via WhatsApp and other social media.’

According to Van Linde, that is not necessarily relevant. ‘Whether the members intended to distribute the list widely or not, it could still be deemed a premeditated act, because you are accepting the risk that it may be made public.’

What is the role of the Public Prosecutor in this case?

The Public Prosecutor (Openbare Ministerie, OM) says that the case would only fall under their jurisdiction once a formal complaint has been filed. ‘It is up to the individual to file a complaint. Only then could further action be taken’, says OM spokesperson Manon Hoiting. ‘We will not be pursuing this case on our own. We would only do that if it was a serious offense.’

Do the female students have any other legal recourse?

According to Ina Brouwer, a RUG alumnus and a lawyer in Bussum who specialises in privacy matters, the students could have a case on the basis of the Personal Data Protection Act. In terms of the bang list, this act is crucial, Brouwer says. ‘Privacy is increasingly important in the age of digitization because the damage can be far greater. That was always the case, but before, the reach of such a document was relatively limited.’

Can the board of Vindicat be held accountable for this?

The Vindicat members who created the list and distributed it are first and foremost accountable in this case, Brouwer says. ‘But the student association itself could be held responsible if it can be proven that the contact information for the girls was obtained from the member’s list’, she says.

Rector Stijn Derksen of Vindicat suspects that list was created based on various sources. Because the students are first years, their phone numbers would not have been listed in the almanac. ‘The photos came from Facebook. It’s likely that the got the numbers and house names from a list that we created at the beginning of the academic year and shared among other Vindicat members.’

According to the Personal Data Protection Act, those who distributed the list are not the only ones who could be held criminally responsible. They did this under the flag of Vindicat, which means that the group themselves could be held accountable for not adequately protecting the personal information of its members. ‘If the member list was used in that way, the board members cannot simply wash their hands of this’.

Online once, online forever?

That is difficult to say. Legally, it’s possible to delete something, says Matthijs van Bergen of legal consultancy firm ICTRecht (IT Law), but it is a serious undertaking if it has been widely spread. ‘Victims can demand that every website that shares the list take it down, if need be via an order from a judge.’ But that would require approaching every single website separately, perhaps even foreign sites.

Victims can also cite the right to be forgotten via Google. In this way, the search engine can hide the list from search results.

Van Bergen warns against the Streisand effect, a reference to Barbra Streisand. The singer wanted a photo of her house to be removed from the internet in 2003. The case received a lot of media attention, which led to even more people looking up the photo. That approach can also backfire.

Reality is often more complex than theory, it turns out. Consider the ‘highness film’ in 2009. GeenStijl filmed a drunken student who was the chairperson of her student association who wanted to be referred to as ‘your highness’. She sued, and won. GeenStijl had to delete the video, but it can still be found online in a slightly modified version which had been made anonymous.

Can the RUG do anything about this? Do they even want to?

RUG spokesperson Gernant Deekens says that the university will not get involved in the matter. ‘It’s an internal issue.’

Bart Beijer, chairperson of the personnel faction of the University Council, disagrees. Beijer says that the university cannot simply say that this does not involved them. ‘Vindicat, and other associations, are a prominent part of the university community. The Board of Directors can absolutely apply pressure.’

Beijer indicates that the question will be brought up in the University Council. ‘It would be a step in the right direction if the board would once and for all come out and say that this sort of conduct is unacceptable.’

More news about the bang list by Vindicat:
House Tabu created bang list
Vindicat suspends 13 members
22 ‘hotties’ on Vindicat list


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