The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Critical comments removed from Mock Con Instagram

Young alumni slammed convention leaders for describing Trump as the “next president,” rather than the GOP nominee. Then their comments were hidden from public view
Shauna Muckle
Mock Convention’s Instagram story Saturday night called Trump “our next president.”

Mock Convention’s Instagram reel announcing Donald Trump would be the “next president” spurred alumni dissent on Saturday. All critical comments were swiftly hidden from the public eye, according to four alumni.

The Phi confirmed these details. The reel currently says there are 32 total comments. But only 11, and one hidden automatically by Instagram, could be viewed on the post on Monday. None of the remaining comments criticize the convention.

Instagram “hides” comments, or removes them from public view, through two mechanisms, according to the app’s settings guide. Users can manually hide comments by censoring certain words, or the app automatically hides comments with offensive language.

Some comments appeared to have been hidden more quickly than others. Mansi Tripathi, ’22, commented “why are we excited about this?” after the reel was posted on Saturday. Later that night, people were telling her that they could no longer see her comment on the post, she said.

Another alum reported a similar experience to Tripathi. On the same reel, which shows Trump praising Washington and Lee, Chase Isbell, ’21, wrote, “Maybe we should seriously be reconsidering what we are doing if the face of American fascism says he has a lot of respect for our school.”

Something struck Isbell as off, they said, when no one reacted to or liked the provocative comment. Shortly after, others couldn’t see Isbell’s comment, they said. The comment is still visible to Isbell themself.

Isbell then wrote, “So you’re hiding and deleting negative comments now?” That comment netted 24 likes, but it was also not visible on the Instagram reel as of Monday morning.

At least three other critical comments from alumni were no longer visible on Mock Con’s post on Monday after hours of remaining up, the Phi found. Liza Aldridge, ’21, Grace Smith, ’20, and Hannah Dewing, ’19, all criticized Mock Con for describing Trump as “our next president” when the event merely predicted him as the GOP nominee.

The caption for the reel has since been changed to clarify that Mock Con predicted Trump as the nominee, Communications Chair Anna Connolly said.

Connolly said in response to an inquiry from the Phi that Mock Con has not deleted any comments from Instagram. But she said the organization did hide two comments from Smith and Dewing to avoid confusion after the caption was edited.

In regard to the rest of the comments that are hidden, we defer to the Instagram algorithm to determine what comments are hidden from viewers,” Connolly wrote in an emailed response.

Dewing, a digital strategist, told the Phi in an interview that she doesn’t buy Mock Con’s claims. Comments automatically hidden by Instagram can be unhidden by viewers, she said. It’s only comments that have been intentionally hidden by the account that can’t be viewed by the public at all. The Phi reviewed Instagram’s settings and confirmed Dewing’s statement. 

“Crisis communication 101 is, ‘Don’t delete [or hide] comments,’” Dewing said. “People always notice, the internet is forever, and frankly it’s stifling civil discourse, which is embarrassing. It’s undermining the school’s authority and Mock Con’s legitimacy.”

Connolly also said that Mock Con initially described Trump as the “next president of the United States” because the convention simulates the script of the real Republican National Convention.

“Our original caption ‘Mock Convention 2024 nominates Donald J. Trump to be the next president of the United States…’ follows the official RNC script,” Connolly said. She added that state chairs from Mock Con 2020 used similar language.

The Instagram post announcing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ nomination in 2020 refers to him as the “Democratic nominee.”

And Dewing said she isn’t convinced by Connolly’s rationale.

“It’s a great cover-up, but it’s a pretty poor excuse,” she said. “Looking back in the Mock Con feed, so much is event-based and objective. That POV or that narrative is not present throughout all of their communication strategy.”

The remaining comments on Mock Con’s reel featuring Trump support the convention or Trump.

A silencing effect

Tripathi said she’s frustrated that she was pulled back into drama with her alma mater this weekend. But the stakes are higher than they might initially seem, she said.

“You’re silencing people who have probably felt silenced in some way before,” Tripathi said. “I put in so much of my time and my energy to make this place better. And I’m voicing an opinion that wasn’t rude. It might have been a little bit sassy, but it was a very real feeling that wasn’t insulting or harming anyone. And they’re deleting it. Or hiding it.”

Dewing and Tripathi said a better move would have been to prepare a response to negative comments. “Anything besides” deleting or hiding, Tripathi said.

“That goes against everything that we’re pretending to stand for,” Tripathi said.

This isn’t the first time alumni have vocally criticized Mock Con. Multiple alumni also commented critically on a post from Washington and Lee’s official Instagram handle showing former Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to campus last March.

Tripathi said that’s because alumni, as outsiders, are “more protected” from social pressure at the university, particularly when criticizing a cherished tradition.

Tripathi and Isbell fiercely disagreed with bringing speakers who espoused transphobic views, such as Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens. 

“This Mock Con shows W&L at its worst: committed to historical tradition even if it hurts the most marginalized in its community,” Isbell said.

Dewing said that Washington and Lee’s association with high-profile, far-right speakers would likely alienate high school students from applying to the university.

“It’s cause for reflection when some of the speakers you chose to bring in are funded by a far-right group that is often known for harassing students,” Dewing said, referring to the fact that Kirk’s planned visit was at least in part funded by the Generals Redoubt. “Anything we do as an institution that alienates students from applying is wrong.”

Dewing said she’s sympathetic to Mock Con leaders who are just learning the ropes of digital strategy. But the stakes for the nationally-recognized event are too high for that to be an excuse, she said.

“I understand that this is really tough… but something with this much of a legacy and this much of a national attention cannot be posting fact errors like this,” she said.

Disclaimer: Shauna Muckle was director of grants for Mock Convention’s financial team. She does not have any affiliation with or special access to Mock Con’s communications department.

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Shauna Muckle, Editor-in-Chief

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  • J

    JohnFeb 15, 2024 at 10:37 am

    I think the article has a balanced view on the Mock Con while highlighting concerns from the young alumni. It would seem Instagram comments were either deleted by Instagram or by the student committee. There should be a way to prove this one way or another and it should be up to student committee to do just that.
    In addition, inconsistency on naming candidates as nominee or next president is concerning though this could be tied to the relative inexperience of the committee and not being aware of the precedent.

  • C

    Concerned StudentFeb 13, 2024 at 9:09 pm

    Does the phi even attempt to portray itself as an objective news outlet? Mock con is entirely student run, and many of those students are democrats. These students worked hard and stayed true to the convention’s goal: to simulate, to the T, the out of power party’s convention. Even with speakers, the goal is to portray all sides of the party, which they did. Those with complaints should grow up and accept that not everyone subscribes to their delusional view of reality. Sad that the phi lacks the talent and objectivity to report accurately on an event.