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UNC’s Crusade Against Anonymous Apps Sparks Free Speech Firestorm

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The University of North Carolina (UNC) is moving to ban anonymous social apps, supposedly out of declarative concern for the students’ well-being.

The idea, the brainchild of the UNC System, will affect all 16 campuses under its control. But this is not an isolated case as other universities are reported to be looking into making similar decisions.

The UNC System chose dramatic language to justify the move, referring to the apps in question as somehow having “reckless disregard” for students (in terms of allowing “bad behavior and bullying”), with the organization’s president Peter Hans vowing to block “the most destructive ones.”

Another qualification found in a statement issued by the UNC Board of Governors equates anonymous apps to “scrawling cruel rumors on the bathroom wall.”

It isn’t at all clear when this decision, which critics might describe as recklessly destructive toward free speech, is going to be implemented. UNC is keeping quiet on such details despite repeated attempts by the College Fix to learn more about the upcoming scheme.

But in the previously drafted document, Hans revealed that “a handful of smaller, hyper-local platforms” will be the first for the chop, and clarified these included YikYak, Sidechat, Fizz, and Whisper.

While the apps are recognized as providing platforms for sharing memes and jokes, he accused them of also ignoring a whole gamut of societal ills: racism, sexual harassment, and drug dealing.

However, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) non-profit sees anonymous apps as valuable tools for students to express themselves without fear, as self-censorship has been on the rise in US universities in recent years.

According to FIRE’s Program Officer Jessie Appleby, blocking these apps is tantamount to “getting rid of that outlet for constructive speech just because of a small amount of offensive speech, and that’s generally not how you want to approach speech.”

But despite the fiery rhetoric coming from the UNC System, the plan is revealed to be effectively symbolic, since the blocking will cover only the campus wi-fi, meaning that students can turn to their mobile plans to continue using the apps.

The most significant result to come out of this, speech advocates are warning, is a public university with constitutional obligations to protect speech setting a dangerous precedent.

If you’re tired of censorship and surveillance, join Reclaim The Net.

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