The Campus Antisemite’s Secret Weapon

This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire

By Antonette Bowman
Real Clear Wire

Protesters were breaking glass and shouting “Intifada! Intifada!” at Berkeley just a few weeks ago. Following the October 7 terror attack on Israel, antisemites at many American colleges and universities have threatened and terrorized their Jewish classmates. In addition to mobilizing mob-like rallies in the three-dimensional world, campus antisemites have also been hard at work in the two-dimensional domain where they’re weaponizing quieter tools to advance their campaign: anonymous localized whisper apps such as Sidechat, Yik Yak, and Fizz.

It’s time to expose campus antisemites who hide behind anonymous social messaging apps and use them to threaten violence and spread bigotry. Ideally, companies and college administrators would hold antisemitic perpetrators who use these apps accountable. Many aren’t, despite Congressional investigations. And that means the government will need to do even more to help students and parents.

So what exactly are anonymous localized apps, and what makes them distinctively useful tools for those interested in ginning up hatred?

The apps work as college-specific virtual discussion platforms that allow anyone with an affiliated “.edu” address to gossip anonymously, creating instantaneous posts. Users within a school’s community can view and publish while concealing their identities.

Consider how Sidechat and Yik Yak, both under the leadership of parent developer Flower Avenue, Inc., market themselves to students: “All posts, comments, and messages are anonymous, so feel free to be your most authentic,” they say.

The apps spawn largely ungoverned virtual spaces that function as quasi-official extensions of campus life, often amplifying its worst elements. The platforms enable campus antisemites to inflict harm in secret, reveling in schadenfreude as they take joy in the suffering of others. Instigators are members of the student’s immediate collegiate community and live nearby – causing the app to “take on a more disturbing dimension,” explained Stanford psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude. “You don’t know where the aggression is coming from, but you know it’s very close to you.”The person who posted antisemitic slurs last night and called you out by name might be living next door or sitting next to you at breakfast in the dining hall. In short, perpetrators can hide in plain sight as they hurt their neighbors and damage their own communities.

The history of these apps makes clear the dangers they present.

Yik Yak, a precursor to its sister app, Sidechat, arrived on the college scene in 2013 and soon earned a “reputation for rampant cyber-bullying and harassment,” according to TechCrunch. Media tempests and controversy raged in response to incidents of hate speech, discrimination, misinformation, and threats of bombings and mass gun violence on the platform. A Towson University student used the app to threaten a “Virginia Tech Part 2,” referring to the 2007 shooting that took the lives of 32 people and wounded 17. A female student at the University of Mary Washington who had been threatened by name on the app was murdered. Some universities were so concerned they banned the app altogether. Due largely to its failure to moderate content, Yik Yak met a temporary end in 2017, only to be resuscitated four years later.

So how are campus antisemites using anonymous apps now, in the days and months after the Hamas terrorist attack that resulted in the murder of approximately 1,200 men, women, and children? Referring to the attack, one Harvard Sidechat user posted “LET EM COOK,” endorsing the worst single-day attack on Jews since the Holocaust. “I proudly accept the label of terrorist,” posted another.

In an echo of Nazi Germany, a Columbia post on Sidechat read, “wish we had some way to indicate zionists and the zionist supporting shops in morningside so we can actively avoid them and not give them our business…perhaps with a star of david from the israeli flag?” And when one Columbia commenter asked what another’s “problem with Zionists” was, the poster responded, “my problem is their existence.”

Tragically, this hatred is not relegated to cyberspace. It migrates to the real world.

“In a series of Sidechat posts, Columbia students also targeted and effectively doxed a Jewish Barnard resident assistant because she removed propaganda from a dormitory bulletin board,” according to a 114-page legal complaint. “The posts named the resident assistant’s specific dormitory and floor, leaving no doubt as to her identity and location, and encouraged students to vandalize her dormitory room, which they eventually did.”

A first step to stopping the spread of antisemitic hatred associated with anonymous localized apps is a simple one: College administrators should say “no thanks” and prevent the apps from encroaching on their campuses to begin with. Where the apps have already entrenched themselves, leaders should block them on their networks. Even if students can access workarounds, the symbolic value of the prohibition sends a message.

The President of the University of North Carolina announced on February 29 plans to block Sidechat, Yik Yak, and similar apps from the UNC System infrastructure, asserting they “have shown a reckless disregard for the wellbeing of young people and an outright indifference to bullying and bad behavior.” Norwich University in Vermont banned Yik Yak years ago.

Unfortunately, many colleges and universities haven’t been as proactive in protecting students.

At a minimum, academic institutions should clarify campus policies and expectations for app companies as well as students, following through with swift and appropriate consequences consistent with the law and in accordance with existing codes of conduct. Foremost among such consequences, students who engage in antisemitic acts on these platforms should understand they may be suspended and their identities provided to law enforcement.

Sadly, if Harvard’s response to Congress and the needs of Jewish students is any indication, many universities may fail to act. That means state and federal governments will need to help.

Perhaps as part of efforts to reform Section 230 in cases of harassment and exploitation, members of Congress could look for ways to amend current law to also provide parents and students attacked by online antisemitism legal relief. Section 230, enacted as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, provides online interactive platforms immunity from liability for content generated by third-party users. Reforms could address scenarios when apps such as Sidechat and Yik Yak permit campus antisemites to use their platforms to harass and threaten, or when colleges and universities fail to protect Jewish students on campus from antisemitism on these apps, thereby violating Title VI.

Congress may also want to consider requiring the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to provide an annual report to Congress documenting each complaint the office receives regarding antisemitic harassment on localized anonymous apps on campus, steps taken to address the complaints, the current status, and projected milestones for each case. The legislation could also require a report on how additional resources for staff could increase the office’s ability to process and act on cases related to antisemitism on campus. In addition, the legislation could require the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Comptroller General to investigate the processes and performance of OCR in such cases.

Congress could also condition some federal funding for colleges and universities on their effective action to ensure that Sidechat, Yik Yak, and other such apps are not used on campus to spread antisemitic hatred. Taxpayer dollars and university infrastructure should not be used to support anonymous trolling forums that help antisemites do their dirty work.

In addition to these legislative efforts, the education committees may want to use their convening power to invite company leaders such as the CEO of Sidechat Sebastian Gil to testify. Perhaps the first panel of the hearing could provide Jewish students an opportunity to describe how Sidechat and Yik Yak have been used to target them. Mr. Gil could sit in the first row behind them and be invited to step forward in a second panel to answer some questions.

Perhaps one of the students invited to the hearing could include Maya Bodnick, a Harvard undergraduate. “I saw Harvard’s Sidechat page inundated with anonymous hateful messages denying the atrocities of Oct. 7, calling Zionists pedophiles, and promoting theories that Jews control the University,” Bodnick wrote on March 5. “​​I’m scared that some of my classmates, or even my professors, hate people like me.”

Many Jewish students at American colleges and universities are afraid. They’re afraid because of the increasingly violent public actions of antisemites on campus and their use of apps like Sidechat to deploy “verbal swastikas” from behind a cowardly shield of anonymity. So far, as evidenced by the testimony of students who attended a House bipartisan roundtable on antisemitism last week, efforts to ensure safety continue to fall short in many cases. If that doesn’t change, we should expect the campaign of antisemitic hate on our campuses to grow worse. We should expect to see more shards of broken glass.

This article was originally published by RealClearEducation and made available via RealClearWire.

The post The Campus Antisemite’s Secret Weapon appeared first on The Gateway Pundit.

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