By Ben Peters
Athens NEWS Associate Editor
An anonymous viral Twitter account said Tuesday it was facing “legal trouble” for alleged “defamation/libel” following several days of sharing dozens of unidentified user-submitted allegations of sexual misconduct, resulting in area businesses and other organizations removing a few Athens residents and Ohio University students from jobs or positions of power.
However, it’s unclear what, if any, legal actions were taken against the shadowed “Ohio U Safe Space” Twitter page. Whoever manages the page’s communications declined to share a formal legal invoice without first consulting a lawyer.
“The page was in jeopardy of being sued. If and when this page has the opportunity to share, it will,” an anonymous person behind the account wrote in an email to The Athens NEWS.
The account, which has since deleted most of its tweets, shared at least five anonymous allegations of sexual assault against OU student Carlo DeNiro, who has since been impeached as president of the Ohio University Interfraternity Council (IFC) because of the allegations, according to a release from the organization.
“As an IFC Executive Board, we recognize that a situation like this calls for drastic restorative action. Our words mean nothing if we cannot stand behind them with action,” Interim IFC President Nick Burson wrote in the release.
DeNiro was also the sole candidate for OU Student Senate president, according to a statement the body released Monday. A panel within the body will “hold meetings in the coming days to formally address these allegations and forge a path for the elections this fall,” the statement said.
RaeAnn Ensworth, a recent OU graduate who was heavily involved with Greek life, said she previously worked with DeNiro to advise his Student Senate presidential campaign and to create public relations materials for him, but they weren’t strongly acquainted.
Ensworth, who is a survivor of sexual violence herself, “100 percent” agrees with the OU IFC’s decision to impeach DeNiro from his position as president of that organization.
“I think it’s easy to judge a survivor using social media to get justice when you look as justice through a one-size-fits-all lens. The reality is that justice and healing look different for every person, for every experience that they might have,” she said.
But Ensworth warned there are risks that come with making allegations on social media, including that there is no guarantee of anonymity.
The page also posted more than a dozen anonymous allegations of sexual assault and rape against Matthew Stephens, an OU alumnus and the former general manager at the Uptown bar Cat’s Corner. A Cat’s Corner employee told The NEWS on Tuesday she received verification from the bar’s owners that they have since “parted ways” with Stephens.
Additionally, Athens-based DJ Mike Oettinger, who goes by DJ Hex, was also a name that appeared on the page.
Kevin Ming Pan, an OU alumnus who helped found BRICK LIFE, a company that books DJs for Red Brick Tavern, said in a tweet that the organization will no longer work with Oettinger.
In 2018, Oettinger spoke out against rape culture saying:
“If you’re at a bar and feel unsafe come let us (Athens DJ’s) know we will get the person removed. We also are always looking for people putting things in drinks. We have a microphone and will be sure to help in anyway we can to help fix the nasty rape culture at OU,” according to WOUB Public Media.
The “Ohio U Safe Space” Twitter page was founded in early June, the shadow figure behind the profile said in an email. But it only started gaining viral traction within the past week.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the account has more than 2,800 followers.
The page was made to “to help survivors out their abusers anonymously. Many times going through another way causes the survivor to speak with many people about a scarring and horrific experience,” according to an email sent hours before the page claimed to be under legal scrutiny.
Whoever is behind the account said they don’t intend to reveal their identity for fear of their personal safety.
“With the number of death threats and physical harm sent towards this page, revealing the sole runner of it would ultimately put that person in danger. You need to realize that many people stand with this page, but there are ones who would like to see it vanish,” they wrote in an email.
Those who shared allegations of sexual misconduct submitted a description of the occurrence to a Google Form. The page said it “carefully” read through each anonymous submission before posting screenshots of them to Twitter.
OU’s Survivor Advocacy Program received feedback from students that the sexually explicit posts on the “Ohio U Safe Space” Twitter account triggered some survivors, according to a statement provided to The NEWS by Jenny Hall-Jones, Ohio University’s senior associate vice president & dean of students, and Kim Castor, director of OU’s Survivor Advocacy Program.
The recent anonymous reports of sexual violence occurring within our community is an important reminder that we still have work to do to create a community where sexual violence of ANY form is not tolerated. Ohio University expects all members of our university community to create a culture of respect and to intervene when they see sexual misconduct continuum,” they said.