The student behind @RyersonProblem

Olivia Baratta has secretly been running the Ryerson Problems Twitter account since 2011. (Christina Dun / Ryersonian Staff)

Olivia Baratta has secretly been running the Ryerson Problems Twitter account since 2011. (Christina Dun / Ryersonian Staff)

A female student sits on a bench on the third floor of the Ted Rogers School of Management trying to focus on the textbook in front of her.

Her phone vibrates and a Twitter notification appears, but she ignores it.

Five minutes later, there are five more notifications. She finally looks at the messages and retweets a few, all with the hashtag “#ryersonproblems.”

It’s not even noon and her iPhone is already down to 20 per cent battery. She can never make it through the day without having to charge her phone.

This is a typical school day for Olivia Baratta, the young woman behind the @RyersonProblem Twitter account.

Baratta is currently studying for her undergraduate degree in hospitality and tourism and will be graduating in December of this year.

She also works on campus as a part-time residence adviser, making her the eyes and ears of all things Ryerson. As a student who lives, works and learns on campus, Baratta said she is able to relate to a lot of the tweets she receives.

But what is the main method to her madness? Baratta opts to use her iPhone for all the tweeting, retweeting and following she packs into her school schedule.

She started the account in November 2011, thinking it would be nothing more than just a little fun.

“To be honest, one day I was just sitting at home in bed and I was procrastinating trying not to do my finance homework,” she said.

Baratta asked herself if there was a way people on campus could make their voice heard. She said using social media to address these concerns was especially important in today’s generation.

“I realized there was nothing else like it on campus. I didn’t think it would blow up and have as many followers as it does today,” she said. “After a couple weeks, I was like, ‘I guess I’m sticking with this.’”

Since then, her influence has been widespread. As of the last week of school, @RyersonProblem had just under 4,000 followers.

Her account doesn’t only garner attention from Ryerson students. Notable followers include vice-president of administration and finance Julia Hanigsberg and the official accounts for Student Housing Services (@RyersonRez) and Ryerson University itself (@RyersonU).

She notes that the most commonly tweeted topics include course intentions, exams and going back to school. However, she received the most tweets during the snowstorm on March 12.

“Ryerson was unfortunately one of the only schools not to close. My phone was going crazy all day, because people seem to think I have the answer to whether the school’s going to close or not,” Baratta said, adding that “RyersonProblems” became a trending topic in Toronto that day.

The most challenging aspect of her double life has been keeping her identity a secret. When she first started, her close friends followed her — without knowing she handled the account. Since then, she has told only a few close friends and her family.

“A lot of people don’t know, it has still been (mainly) anonymous to this day,” she said. But that doesn’t mean that she’s hasn’t had a few close calls throughout the past three years.

Baratta recalls one during her first year when her friends came close to finding out. Her friends started discussing how weird it was that the account followed them, retweeted them frequently and replied to most of their tweets.

Baratta said she played into the conversation. “’I know, oh my goodness, who could it be?’” she remembers saying.

“Inside of my head, the entire time (I was) like ‘I hope they don’t find out.’ “It was not that I was scared and it’s not that I was ever talking bad about Ryerson, it was more just revealing problems that the everyday student (has),” she said, adding that her biggest worry was whether she was doing something offensive to the university. “After a while I realized I really am just another student voice and another student member on campus.”

According to Baratta, she saw the account as a way for students to tell a neutral source their problems about Ryerson. She said it also acts a buffer for students to be heard and broadcast throughout the university community, one of the main reasons why she never tied her identity to the account.

On March 21, Baratta tweeted out to her followers announcing her intentions to pass on the account. “I definitely think it’s time for maybe someone in second year or third year to maybe take over the account and just continue that student voice on campus,” she said.

She has had 25 responses so far, most from students who have been followers since the beginning. Baratta said she will choose someone who realizes the importance of remaining respectful and not being slanderous towards the school. She wants “someone willing to bring out the problems in a true, positive way.”

For now, she’s been enjoying her final weeks as one of Ryerson’s biggest mysteries. Until then, she admits the strangest things about the whole experience are seeing a Twitter follower in person around campus. She said it allows her to put a face to each Twitter username.

When this happens, one thing goes through Baratta’s head, “I know what problem you have,” she squeals.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 9, 2014.

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