Women’s and civil rights organizations advocate for colleges to monitor social media

By Imogen Lindsley

By Imogen Lindsley

Staff Writer

Yik Yak is an anonymous social media site allowing individuals to “get a live feed about what everyone’s saying around you.” But the problem occurs when the users, 95 percent of which are from colleges and universities, also receive a live feed about what everyone is saying about them.

http://www.yikyakapp.com

On Oct. 21, 2015, 72 women’s and civil rights organizations gathered in Washington D.C. advocating for the U.S. Education Department to insist that colleges monitor anonymous social media for racist and sexual comments, protecting students who are identifiable.

However, the University is not monitoring or banning the app to prevent offensive comments.

Associate Dean of Students Justin Brown said silencing hate does not help.

“Hate always finds a way to be heard,” he said. “Our goal should be to undermine the ideology itself, not its voice.”

Rachel Storm, Assistant Director at the Women’s Resource Center, said that social media can be used for social justice as much as it can be used to exploit or harass others.

“Social media has been a tremendous space for calling out racism, sexism, transphobia and other systems of oppression,” she said. “If you see something oppressive online, speak up and if someone is harassing you or someone you know, reach out for help.”

Efforts to protect students against harmful posts have resulted in 130,000 schools in the U.S. banning the app. Matthew Mullen, a student at Michigan State University, posted on Yik Yak on Nov. 24, 2014, writing, “I’m gonna (image of a pistol) the school at 12:15 p.m. today.” In March this year he was sentenced to two years of probation and charged an $800 fine.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/09/technology/popular-yik-yak-app-confers-anonymity-and-delivers-abuse.html

During April this year, over 500 students protested against racist comments on Yik Yak at Colby College in Maine. In May this year, female students at University of Mary Washington in Virginia complained to the U.S. government about the failure of their school to protect them after they had reported assault and death threats on Yik Yak.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/10/22/colleges-face-new-pressure-monitor-social-media-site-yik-yak

Storm said there are a number of resources at the University aimed to protect students facing threats.

“If a student is experiencing harassment on social media, they definitely can reach out to the Women’s Resources Center, as well as the other cultural centers on campus, for supportive services,” said Molly McLay, Assistant Director at the Women’s Resource Center.

Brown encourages victims of prejudice-based harassment to contact the police and the Office for Student Conflict Resolution (http://www.conflictresolution.illinois.edu/tolerance/). The Office of Diversity, Equity and Access also recommends that victims of gender-based or sexual harassment contact their office or use the We Care website (wecare.illinois.edu).

Speaking out and alerting others to instances of discrimination is also a feature adopted by the app itself. When encountering an offensive Yak, users can tap the post and hit the flag on the top right-hand corner of the screen. Brown said preventing abusive behavior on social media requires a “holistic societal effort.”

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TWEET: Seventy-two women’s and civil rights organizations gathered in Washington, D.C. advocating for the U.S. Education Department to insist that colleges monitor anonymous social media for racist and sexual comments.