from the when-you-eliminate-the-impossible,-whatever-remains-won't-be-this-ban dept
Administrators at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill are now considering a Yik Yak ban, at the request of some students. "People have been saying some very racist, very hurtful things," Ashley Winkfield, a UNC senior, told WRAL.com.For those of you unaware of Yik Yak's existence, much less its purpose, Yik Yak is a social media app that allows anonymous postings. This anonymity tends to bring out the worst in some people, and Yik Yak has fielded plenty of criticism along these same lines over the past several months. But it's far from the only social media platform that allows anonymous postings -- which is only part of the stupidity inherent to the school's plan to ban this particular app.
First off, there's the issue with "hate speech." Some speech clearly falls under this heading. Other stuff tends to fall under the "well, I just don't like what this person is saying" heading. Far too many educational entities tend to frown on both, often with restrictive speech policies. That's where this is going with a full head of "we'll decide what's actually protected speech" steam.
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston Crisp said UNC-Chapel Hill officials are examining options for dealing with Yik Yak.UNC doesn't get to limit speech to only what's "constructive and respectful." Its authority doesn't extend past the First Amendment. But that's only the Constitutional problems. There are additional problems -- ones more firmly grounded in "bright line" areas -- that UNC doesn't seem to have considered… like logistics… or how powerless it actually is.
"I think it adds little to no value to our community and creates more problems for our students than it will ever be worth," Crisp said in a statement. "We want Carolina to be a place where people feel comfortable talking about race and other issues, and we are working hard to create opportunities for them to do that in a constructive and respectful way.”
How could colleges possibly stop students from downloading or using a particular app? They can't. But they can make the app slightly harder to use on-campus by blocking it from school wireless networks. That this is largely a symbolic guesture hasn't stopped several schools, including New York's Utica College and Vermont's Norwich University, from doing so.The best UNC can do is possibly inconvenience some of its students. Those who like to fill Yik Yak with hate speech (or just unpopular speech) will move to a platform that isn't blocked, or just take the (minimal) hit on their mobile data plan. At no point will this ban ever achieve its goal of "constructive and respectful" on-campus speech, in large part because the ban will indicate to students that the university has no respect for their First Amendment rights and believes its attendees are little more than misbehaving children who need to have their toys taken away from time to time. You can't nudge people towards respect by infantilizing them, no matter how ignorant some of their speech may be (or how loud their complaints are).
Furthermore, the students who wish to see the speech of others restricted are just as naive as the children the school apparently believes they are. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown points out, these students who are shocked by nasty anonymous messages apparently feel the off-campus world is full of constructive, respectful individuals.
I find it hard to believe that before seeing these sentiments expressed on Yik-Yak, Winkfield had no idea that any fellow students might be racists and assholes. But whatever. What's more mind-boggling is how she thinks banning Yik-Yak would help here.And how will it help in the future? If you can't learn to combat ignorance and hate within the relative safety provided by the university, how will you possibly deal with it post-graduation, in a world where speech is much harder to constrain? This student's colleagues -- the ones spewing racist crap via Yik Yak -- will move on as well. The ban won't keep racism and other ugliness bottled up forever. More speech could help deal with this problem, but the pursuit of an app ban is nothing more than sliding a policy rug over a particularly unsightly stain on the carpet. And that only works until the next stain appears. Sooner or later, you run out of rugs.
And, of course, there are alternatives in teaching people how to deal with these things. It's become something of a cliche at this point that the best way to deal with "bad" speech is "more" speech, but it does seem to be pretty effective in many cases. Even with Yik Yak. Students at Colgate University were dealing with similar problems as those described above, and a bunch of professors decided to do something about it. They didn't try to ban Yik Yak or shut it down. They started posting positive messages to the service and signed their names to it. It didn't stop all the abusive comments, of course, but it did change the tone quite a bit, and made students realize that not everyone was a horrible bully on campus.
Our nation's colleges are, for the most part, cranking out incredibly insular individuals who believe the world can be bent to their whims, thanks to the excessive coddling of every person whose feelings have been rubbed the wrong way by the abrasiveness of real life. It's not enough that they'll graduate saddled in debt and possibly armed with a useless degree. They're also being dumped into a world where everyday nastiness can't be papered over by tutting administrators and futile bans. Sure, we all would prefer the world be filled with "constructive" speech and "respectful" people, but it doesn't work like that. By providing shelter rather than pushing students to take control of these situations, these universities are doing their students -- and the future of this country -- a huge disservice.