The phrase “snowflakes running for their safe spaces” is, I’m sure, grossly overused these days, but one case out of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia surely merits invoking it again. A couple of years ago there were a number of students at that campus (and all over the country as I recall) who were using a new, anonymous messaging service called Yik Yak. Unfortunately for a group of students who belonged to an association on campus called “Feminists United on Campus” (what? You couldn’t come up with a “K” word to stick on the end?), this led to a string of derogatory and perhaps even threatening comments directed against them on Yik Yak.
As the Daily Caller reveals, the feminists asked for something to be done to stop the anonymous individuals from posting these messages on that service. The school administration responded that there was virtually nothing they could do, and even if they could, a blanket limit on free speech would put them in legal jeopardy of their own. Not having gotten satisfaction in response to their bizarre request, the feminists did what any group of enterprising young Americans should… they sued. The results, when put in front of a court, were even less satisfying.
The lawsuit, which was litigated by the Feminist Majority Foundation, claimed that school officials violated Title IX — a comprehensive 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex — as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Writing for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Judge John A. Gibney ruled last week that the University of Mary Washington did not fail to protect the students. Givney reasoned that school administrators could not control comments posted on Yik Yak because they did not own nor have any control over the social media service.
Gibney concluded that “no constitutional violation occurred, let alone a clearly established or continuing violation.”
The idea that the school could simply ban the entire platform because it was being abused by a few idiots was further dismissed by Eugene Volokh. He argued that a preemptive ban would constitute prior restraint and would have failed upon being counter-challenged in court. The school had been left between a rock and a hard place.
The immediate question which comes to mind is whether or not the feminist club went to the police. If not… why not? And if so, what did they say? Just being unpleasant isn’t against the law (yet) but if there were actual threats of physical harm being directed at specific members of the feminist club, then the authorities would be bound to look into it.
But then comes the question of whether or not the owners of Yik Yak could even produce the identities of the users making the threats to begin with. The app had a relatively short and strange history (launching in 2013 and being entirely shut down by the spring of this year) and it was constantly mired in controversy. It limited conversations by location and attempted to stop certain locations from accessing it through geofencing, but the anonymous nature of the tool made it a natural platform for abuse. In the end, that’s probably what did them in more than anything.
But still… suing the school seems to have been the worst possible option. And yet they found someone to represent them in the effort? It’s a mad, mad, mad world these days. If you feel aggrieved I suppose you could find someone to represent you in court for pretty much anything.