Phi Beta Cons

Facebook Controversy at the University of Georgia

Last month, a series of offensive Facebook posts directed at two University of Georgia student groups sparked a campus controversy. Before the controversy subsided weeks later, it led to two protests and a student-government resolution condemning UGA’s culture as unwelcoming — even unsafe — for minorities.

On November 3, a newly created Facebook account posting under the name of a university student (who has disavowed responsibility) left posts on the pages of two student groups. “Why can’t you dumb dirty n*****s stop stinking up the place? Let UGA be RIGHT for good WHITE Christian students,” read a post left on the Black Affairs Council page. Another post on the LGBT Resource Center’s page read “Burn in hell f*****s.”

Subsequent posts followed, all generated by an anonymous antagonist who stole the identities of real UGA students. As an official investigation is ongoing, all claims about the antagonist and his motives are speculative. If we are to speculate, however, three explanations stand out as plausible.

The posts were created to intimidate and belittle minority students. This is the obvious explanation, and it has dominated media coverage of the incident. The fake Facebook account in question, which was littered with Confederate, Nazi, and fringe-right symbolism, lends credence to this explanation. Additionally, hateful acts have occurred at UGA in recent years.

The posts were created to defame the students whose Facebook identities had been stolen. As reported by the campus newspaper, several weeks before the incident a public post titled “Lets ruin this f***ers life” was created on Pastebin — the target was the UGA student whose name appeared on the first post. This suggests that the primary intent of the Facebook posts may have been to “ruin the lives” of several UGA students by making them appear racist, and not to target student groups.

The posts were created to galvanize left-wing campus groups. The UGA case bears more than passing similarity to “hate-crime hoaxes,” anonymous attacks that are perpetrated not by racists or homophobes but by radical activists impersonating them. Recent incidents at Vassar, Oberlin, Central Connecticut State, and the University of Wyoming are illustrative. “Hoaxes” even have precedent at UGA, where in 1998 it was discovered that a series of homophobic threats and arsons had been committed by their ostensible target, Jerry Kennedy, who is gay. He was charged with three years of probation.

Whatever the explanation in the current case, the administration acted swiftly and appropriately. First, it opened an official investigation with the authorities, who are collaborating with security teams from Facebook and Twitter. The fake account was taken down within days. Second, it reached out to the groups that had received offensive Facebook messages: Vice president of student affairs Victor Wilson wrote to both groups to condemn the attacks and express support. The victims of identity theft were contacted as well.

Some were not satisfied by these measures, however. A march, officially titled “A Minority’s Plea: When Will the Injustice End?” was organized by the BAC and LGBTRC, with support from the Undocumented Students Alliance (USA), Freedom U. Georgia, and other local left-wing groups.

Roughly 200 people, mostly students, attended the march. The march’s organizers led participants in chants through a bullhorn: “No justice, no peace,” “Up, up, with education, down, down, with segregation,” and “We won’t go.” Marchers brought signs with messages ranging from one-word slogans (“Justice”) to quotations attributed to 1960s radical Angela Davis  (“If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you at night”).

The administration responded in a campus-wide e-mail from President Jere Morehead, who explained the measures that had been taken to root out the author of the Facebook posts. Morehead affirmed that the acts “do not reflect the culture of unity and inclusion which we support on our campus.”

UGA professor Obie Clayton, director of the on-campus Center for Social Justice, seconded Morehead’s statement. “That it happened, it doesn’t surprise me, but looking at the university, I think it’s a very isolated incident,” Clayton said. “I have to go along with what the president said in his open letter — that it is not indicative of who we have at UGA, and it’s certainly not indicative of the students, staff, and faculty who I’ve interacted with on a daily basis.”

Protestors’ criticism of administration only intensified. “Of all the administrators that I’ve reached out to, only one or two of them were at the march,” BAC president Caroline Bailey said in an interview with the campus newspaper. “I think that if we can’t even get them to show up at marches students plan and orchestrate, then we really don’t have anything to discuss.” When asked what more the administration could do, Bailey said that they could “make things right. Make it inclusive. Make it welcoming and make it a home for everyone at the University of Georgia, regardless of race, creed, nationality, religion, immigration status, all of it. Just make it home. Make it right.”

The university did not accomplish this to protesters’ satisfaction in the week following the incident, so, on November 14, a “silent but loud protest” was organized in front of the president’s office. The event itself was true to billing, but the BAC’s statement on Facebook spoke volumes. It ended with a quote by Eldridge Cleaver: “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” Cleaver was the minister of information for the Black Panther Party.

After the second protest, as student interest seemed to wane, there was a renewed response from institutional figures at UGA. Two days after the protest, leaders of campus minority groups including the BAC attended a luncheon with President Morehead, where, according to Vice President of Public Affairs Tom Jackson, they discussed “their experiences and perceptions of UGA.” Jackson said the luncheon had been on the president’s schedule since September, long before the Facebook incidents occurred.

One week later, the legislative arm of student government passed Resolution 26–22, which expressed support for minority students and condemned a university “culture” that “encourages” hate speech. Multicultural Organizations Student Life representative Robert Boggs authored and sponsored the resolution, which passed overwhelmingly. “I understand some people are shocked by this, but I’m sorry, that’s how many on this campus feel,” Boggs said. “Some people have said they don’t want a degree here because this [hate speech] happened.”

For now, the expedient timing of the Thanksgiving and winter breaks seem to have put the controversy out of students’ minds. That leaves only the official investigation, which will hopefully expose the instigator — and bring to a close a very peculiar episode in UGA’s history.

— Blake Seitz is a senior at the University of Georgia. He is editor-in-chief of The Arch Conservative.

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