Offensive Comments Not a Reason to Shut Down Yik Yak

To the Editor:

It is simply appalling that women’s groups would ask the federal “Office for Civil Rights to require colleges” to create “barriers to the use of social-media applications” like Yik Yak (“Women’s Groups Urge Colleges and Government to Rein in Yik Yak,” The Chronicle, October 21).

The fact that some Yik Yak users make racist or sexist comments is not a reason to shut down an entire medium of communication. The Supreme Court’s decision striking down an Internet decency law likened such sweeping censorship to “burning the house to roast the pig.” In The Washington Post, law professor Eugene Volokh correctly described these women’s groups as a “national coalition in favor of campus censorship.”

There is no racism or sexism exception to the First Amendment on campus, as court rulings like Dambrot v. Central Michigan University (1995) make clear. Yet the letter to the Office for Civil Rights signed by these 72 groups seeks to ban as “race-based harassment” comments such as claiming that black “culture just isn’t conducive to a life of success.”  Such comments cannot be banned as “harassment” without violating the First Amendment.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made that clear in its 2010 Rodriguez decision, which cited the First Amendment to dismiss a racial-harassment lawsuit over a professor’s racially charged anti-immigration e-mails.

Hans Bader
Arlington, Va.

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