[Becca Starr/The Daily Pennsylvanian] College freshman Greg Kaplan references his facebook.com profile defending himself against charges relating to a comment on his account.

Freshman student-government candidates defended themselves yesterday against accusations that they used the popular networking site facebook.com for early campaigning.

Grievance officer for the Nominations and Elections Committee Colleen Donovan brought 18 charges against 14 students based on "a reasonable suspicion" that they began campaigning before Sept. 20.

Members of the NEC were on hand last night to listen to each candidate's allotted four-minute defense. NEC members and the general audience were then allowed to question the candidates. Afterward, the NEC retired to an undisclosed location in Logan Hall for private deliberations.

As of press time, the NEC had been discussing the issue for at least six hours and had still not come to a consensus. Vote totals for the election, which ended last Thursday, will not be released until all the violations are reviewed.

College freshman Steve Martucci and Wharton freshman Ricky Walters, both former candidates, did not show up to the hearing and were automatically disqualified.

The NEC's Fair Practices Code states that "only during [the official campaigning period] may candidates and their surrogates actively promote their candidacies by campaigning. Any act, process or publication which may solicit votes is considered campaigning."

However, many candidates do not view messages and groups on the Facebook as active campaigning.

"The key words here are 'actively' and 'solicit,'" College freshman and candidate Chris Ritchie said. He was charged with two violations for joining a Facebook group that supported his candidacy and for writing, 'Vote for me for Vice President,'" on his profile.

"No one's going to see my profile unless they look for Chris Richie. ... It's not actively soliciting votes," he said.

College freshman Dan Tavana, who was charged with a violation for a Facebook group, said that the group was not a serious campaigning tool and that a friend created it without his knowledge.

"The reasons [to join] were that I have a cool bike and I drink a lot of Crystal Light. It wasn't a real effort. ... I thought it was funny," Tavana said.

College freshman and candidate Irmina Gawlas, who was charged with a violation for a Facebook group she says a friend created without her knowledge, asked that the NEC grant a "general amnesty" for all candidates due to misunderstandings about the Facebook.

"It's almost funny to me that we have almost 40 adults here talking about Facebook for hours," she said. "I don't believe [this was] an attempt to solicit votes on my part."

Despite the disagreements over early usage of the Facebook, College senior and Undergraduate Assembly Chairwoman Rachel Fersh said that "it's good that the allegations were bought forward because if there was a lack of clarity in the rules, then the purpose of the NEC is to deliberate these matters."

She added, "I think their defenses have been excellent."

Since nearly one-third of student-government candidates were charged with violations, College freshman Greg Kaplan said, "I feel that it's the duty of the NEC in the future to make this policy more clear."

Violations aside, Fersh added, "It's great when frosh come to campus and are immediately involved. ... I hope it doesn't [discourage] future candidates from running."

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