Adam Carlson of the AJC reported on Friday about the possibility of Emory University banning Yik Yak on its campus due to student demands. Yik Yak is a social media app for smartphones that allows for anonymous messages to be sent to others that are using the app within a 5-mile radius of the sender.
Recently, a list of demands was submitted to Emory University by the “Black Students of Emory University” to “demand an active change in University policy directed towards Black students.” The list included a demand to block Yik Yak from the campus area (paragraph spacing has been added for clarity of reading):
Acknowledging foremost that all kinds of speech are not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” Emory University shall not protect the privilege of students to vocalize hate speech.
The social app Yik Yak has been utilized on Emory’s campus to post messages similar in sentiment to the following posts: “So Black people can complain about their f**king microaggressions and whatever but if I as a white person feel unsafe or uncomfortable for any reason, I’m ignorant. F**k that”, “I’m about to jack off to ebony porn to help race relations”, and “Let’s be real. Black lives matter is a sham. It’s not because you’re black. It’s because you’re selling crack and ran from a police officer.” This is hate speech, which is defined by the American Bar Association as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.”
Whereas, this fits the description of the aforementioned posts as it did to the Swastika painted on the fraternity house of Alpha Epsilon Pi (which was swiftly removed by the authorities), it is illogical for Emory to remain impartial in the matter at hand. On October 11th 2015, Emily Sacamoto was arrested on Emory’s Oxford campus for posting “I’m shooting up the school. Tomorrow. Stay in your rooms. The ones on the quad are the ones who will go first.”
Though the federal Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. § 2701) prevents Yik Yak from disclosing the account information of a user without an official request from law enforcement, it is impermissible to allow racist students to terrorize Black people on any form of media and the anonymity that Yik Yak provides is a breeding ground for behavior of that sort.
Hence, we demand that Emory University Information Technology Services formally request that Yik Yak, Inc. install a geofence covering the zip code 30322 in order to protect our students from subjection to intolerable and psychologically detrimental material.
Emory University responded to the demands on December 2 and updated its response on December 4. They responded to the Yik Yak demand with the following:
The Yik Yak comments mentioned in the demands are definitely inappropriate and symptomatic of a much larger problem. However, Yik Yak is not the problem. All communication technologies have the ability to be misused. Georgia Southern University recently went through a similar situation with a post on Facebook by a Georgia Southern student. Should Facebook also be banned on campuses? Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram?
Anonymity will continue to be an issue on the internet, including here on Peach Pundit, just as it has since its beginnings of public use. If someone so desired, they could create fake email, social media, and blogging accounts. Users can use proxies to hide their identities (and IP addresses) even further. In fact, Facebook opened up access to its site via Tor, an anonymous portal into the web and the Deep Web. Twitter just this weekend suggested using Tor for some users accessing Twitter. We simply cannot prevent anonymity by blocking certain technologies, as there are others that will take its place.
While communication technologies certainly have their flaws, these technologies also have the capability of being used for good as well. These type of technologies have enabled disadvantaged groups and individuals to communicate to a larger audience at little or no cost. Thus, it seems inappropriate and unrealistic to block an app that has the capability of be used for non-hate speech, such as blasting out campus events and making announcements to a large group. We have to be extremely careful to not to hinder the rights of others to use a technology just because someone decides to misuse that technology.
I sincerely hope that Emory University focuses on the real problems at hand and not a particular technology.