Smoke Signal disables Instagram comment section


Ellie Kim

The Smoke Signal Instagram has limited comments on its recent posts following requests from the district. A post announcing the Board of Education's decision to remove the Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills mascots received over 1,800 comments.

Ellie Kim and Spencer Goldstein

At the request of district administration, Smoke Signal editors opted to disable the comment section on Monday night’s Instagram post in which it announced the district’s decision to remove the Indians and Cowboys as the mascots of Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills, respectively. The post had reached 1,855 comments in under 24 hours and while many consisted of debate, there were a number of comments left by anonymous accounts that mocked George Floyd or impersonated Pocahontas or Sacagawea. Other comments targeted individuals’ weight or physical appearance. 

Administration made the request after receiving guidance from the Hillsdale Police Department, which remains in contact with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, according to Interim Principal John Puccio.

Due to the severity of the situation, we are working with the Hillsdale Police Department to investigate the comments that were posted,” Puccio said in an email sent to the student body Thursday afternoon. 

The district requested that The Smoke Signal disable further commenting on the Instagram posts due to the possibility that some comments may be considered a bias crime, Interim Principal John Puccio said. A bias or hate crime is a “criminal offense that is committed against a person, property, group of people, or society,” motivated “by the offender’s bias against a religion, race, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin,” according to U.S. Legal. 

“[The comments] did not rise to the level of a bias crime. However, that comment section got too inflammatory and it would be possible that it could rise to a bias crime and we don’t want to see that take place,” said a representative of the Hillsdale Police Department, who asked to remain anonymous due to the matter relating directly with the school rather than the police.  “One wrong word can be the difference between really crossing the line these days and when tempers are flared up, unfortunately some of these harsh words can come up very quickly.”

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office gives guidance to the Hillsdale Police Department, which works with administration, according to the police representative. The district encourages students to “to voice their differences,” but in a more respectful and productive manner, according to Puccio. 

“I was deeply disappointed to read some of the comments that have been made on social media,” Puccio said in the email. “I know that those comments are not an accurate representation of our Pascack Valley community as a whole.”