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The Blue & Gray Press | August 21, 2019

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UMW takes on anonymous social media debate

UMW takes on anonymous social media debate

By Sarah Grammer

The University of Mary Washington hosted its first forum, in its series of three, pertaining to civility, Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The resolution of the forum was that UMW should ban anonymous social media, to which two alumni debated the resolution, Joe Packer, taking the affirmative, and Colin McElhinny, negating the resolution.

Yik-Yak has been a topic of intense discussion among students and faculty, particularly following the anonymous threats made to members of Feminists United on Campus last semester.

The event was hosted as a way “to introduce students to the idea that you can debate the topics intellectually,” said Dr. Leah Cox, special assistant for diversity and inclusion at UMW. It was never intended that the debate lead to a decision about whether or not the University should try to ban Yik-Yak from the campus, according to Cox, “We were hoping to create discussion and dialogue in a healthy way.”

Senior biology major Alexa Allen, thought the forum overall “got people thinking about the issue,” but felt that the “whole forum was devalued when Packer said that banning Yik-Yak was unrealistic.”

Allen believed Packer’s conclusion was an indicator that he gave up too easily on the issue, saying “If you are willing to admit that so easily, are you really fighting for what you say you are?”

Packer, alum from the class of 2005, spoke first, beginning with a narrative of a shepherd finding a ring that made him invisible, which he then used to kill an important member of town and steal all of his valuables.

Packer tied this story to students’ use of Yik-Yak, saying that “when there are no realconsequences to our behavior, when we are not out in the open to be judged for the things that we do it tends to bring out the worst in people.”

Packer went on to discuss the level of discourse on sites such as Yik-Yak. He does not believe that a productive conversation can be had on anonymous social media sites because of Social Cues Theory.

According to Packer, the Social Cues Theory “is the idea is when you are speaking with other people, they kind of guide you to correct social behavior.” Parker’s argument is that these social cues are not in place on a site like Yik-Yak.

Moving on to events specific to UMW, Parker discussed the threats written on YikYak to members of Feminist United in Spring 2015, “They have to walk around, they have to go to class knowing that these comments are from fellow members of their community and that is, I imagine, very damaging psychologically.”

Packer ended by saying that he is aware that the world is not always fair and can be “a bad place,” but he believes that “at a place like Mary Washington, we can strive to be better.”

While Packer began his argument with a narrative, McElhinny, an alum from the class of 2014, began with facts from our nation’s history. McElhinny spoke of the importance that anonymity played in the making of our country, one way being through the federalists papers. “Being able to speak anonymously is an important part of one’s right to free speech,” McElhinny said, sharing that Supreme Court judges most often make rulings in favor of anonymity.

McElhinny argued that banning anonymous social media would be, “a way to sweep the problem under the door and ignore it.” According to him, people would stop having these opinions, they would just be “out of the public’s eye,” if anonymous social media were banned. McElhinny’s final argument was that all of these problems on YikYak could be solved, not by banning, but by moderating what is being said.

In conclusion, Packer said “we both agree on the problem and we both agree on the severity but we disagree on the issue.”

The next installment of the Civility Series will be on Oct. 15 and will ask to question if “American culture is feminist friendly.”


  1. Alumni McDoogle

    Problem: Using yik yak makes you feel sad. Solution: stop voluntarily using yik yak. #smartestpersonintheroom