School’s out for YikYak

The Miller Learning Center at UGA was evacuated from 12:15-1:13 due to a threat posted on the social networking app YikYak. The app, which displays anonymous messages from nearby users and is popular on college campuses, saw a message this morning reading “if you want to live don’t be at the SLC [Student Learning Center, the building’s name to upperclassmen] at 12:15.” Predictably, the app’s users responded by praying that star running back Todd Gurley would be rescued first.

At 12:15, University of Georgia Police burst in to classrooms in the SLC and demanded a full evacuation. Law enforcement arrived in force, complete with closed roads, K-9 units, and one temporarily-deputized UGA staffer who refused to shake my outstretched hand. At least one helicopter has been seen overhead. UGA students received an automated all-clear phone call at 1:13.

Two elements of the zeitgeist are apparent. YikYak has been routinely criticized for allowing young people to make anonymous comments they wouldn’t have the courage or stupidity to say in person- which is also its charm. It’s been banned from several public schools and has been labeled “the most dangerous app I’ve ever seen” by one psychiatrist. Presumably the apps of his childhood were far more benign.

The other is the militarization of school security that is undoubtedly necessary yet intensely troubling. Most students treated the event as what it was- a joke, a freshman who didn’t study for a test, or a drunk frat boy with no sense of boundaries. The screaming police officers, blinding lights, and bomb-sniffing dogs aren’t in the joke. They instruct us- as does more and more of our paranoid, safety-conscious, heavily armed world- that we aren’t safe here.

31 comments

  1. gcp says:

    “Burst in to classrooms” ? Possibly an exaggerated student description but after Va. Tech and other shootings what do we expect from pd?

  2. George Chidi says:

    “Undoubtedly necessary.” No. It is not undoubtedly necessary. It is an over-reaction at best; a provocation at worst.

    We concede to fear every time we do this. Someone compare the cost of making an anonymous comment online to the cost of the reaction to it, then the number of comments like this to the actual incidence of crime, then do the math.

    • Ed says:

      I think he means in general it is necessary for school’s to have “militarized” police forces. And they are necessary for schools. If nothing else, they have routine gatherings of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people in a single location. That’s kind of a prime target.

      • Chet Martin says:

        I should have gone in to more detail here. I meant that in the aftermath of Va Tech and Sandy Hook, it’s impossible– politically, if not morally– for school administrators to treat campus security with anything less than grave seriousness. What that looks like is up for debate.

        But in a society as inundated with images of school shootings as ours, it’s unfeasible to ask them to ignore the threat, no matter how self-evidently silly it is.

        • George Chidi says:

          I get it. Politicians are risk-averse and the electorate exhibits recency biases after serious incidents. Politically, it does no good to point out that crime has been falling, that school shootings are mercifully rare and always have been — it’s only the wall-to-wall media coverage of those events that makes them seem more common — or that the presence of upgunned police arsenals create a risk of misuse. All of that gets wiped away after the next mass shooting.

          And, yes, I get that the increase in firepower available to civilians presents an increasing risk. I don’t want to dismiss that. We’ll have fewer incidents, but the number of deaths per incident may increase. The total number of deaths has been falling. We’re safer. And there’s no evidence that it’s due to the availability of armored SWAT teams.

          I see this incident, and I have to consider the risk of a school shooter or a bomber and compare that to the risk of an adrenaline-filled officer mistaking someone’s cell phone for a gun and killing a bystander. Which, right now, do you believe is the more likely: a terrorist attack or a civilian gunned down by our own police in a response to one?

          As the Cato institute (and yes, I recognize the absurdity of a progressive like myself quoting Cato) notes, an American is eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist. An American is also about 1000 times more likely to die in a car wreck than by a terrorist. I strongly suspect UGA isn’t spending 1000 times as much money on traffic enforcement as they do on cops.

          • Chet Martin says:

            Agreed to all of the above. Perhaps part of this intensely protective atmosphere is a consequence of an aging society?

    • gcp says:

      Pd was criticised after May 2014 UCAL shooting because they did not act based on the shooters u-tube video. Pd says they never saw the video. To ignore any conveyed threat with a specified target is not good policy.

      As for a UGA bomb squad, any pd, particularly one that serves a large population or a large venue (Sanford Stadium) better have their own bomb squad or immediate access to one; if not , they are seriously negligent.

      • George Chidi says:

        I’ll give you the bomb squad. Risk-reward is probably on point. The bomb squad isn’t likely to shoot anyone by mistake … although they’re likely to blow stuff up that is fairly innocuous, like a backpack left at a bus stop.

        But the rest of it? A student is manifestly more likely to die playing team sports than at the hands of a campus shooter. And, no, we’re not banning football, at least not yet.

        There’s a fundamental philosophical question that needs to be answered to guide policy. Are some kinds of deaths simply worse than others, so much so that we can justify spending more money to avert them? Is it eight times worse to be killed by a terrorist than an American police officer? Is it 125 times worse to be killed by a terrorist than in a car crash?

        • gcp says:

          Not sure we can view public safety in terms of a strict cost/benefit analysis. Yes resources are allocated based on need but its not like private industry that allocates based on profit/loss . Public safety is a little different.

          • seenbetrdayz says:

            At what point do you draw a line if everything can be justified under the cry of ‘public safety’? Do police departments need drones with hellfire missiles?

            It’s incremental and almost always justifiable. A recent report showed that the D.O.D. was handing down mil-surplus BAYONETS to police departments. Is the line there? What does a police department need with a bayonet?

            Rand Paul at a senate hearing on the bayonet issue:

            • gcp says:

              Well no, everything can’t be justified. But experience shows us that certain weapon systems may be needed even if seldom used. The military maintains nuclear weapons but have used them only twice. Should we unilaterally eliminate them? Nope.

              Similarly bomb squads, semi-auto rifles and other weapon systems may be seldom used in law enforcement but experience shows us they may be needed.

              As for who ultimately “draws the line”? Well that’s the voters because they vote for politicians that appoint police chiefs and our military leaders, and directly elect sheriffs.

              As for Rand Paul; he is a whole different discussion.

        • Michael Silver says:

          Simple answer. Yes.

          Terrorist vs Car Crash: Cars have a use, generally the people involved have decided for themselves to be put in that spot and the impact is local. Terrorists decide when to kill, they do so to advance a political goal BY FORCE and the impact is nationwide.

          Terrorist vs PoPo: If you encounter a terrorist, you will likely die. If you encounter the PoPo, the likelihood of it ending in death is very small.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          “Are some kinds of deaths simply worse than others, so much so that we can justify spending more money to avert them?” The short answer is yes.

          An issue is that most people think those killed by police officers have made decisions that put them in that position, and that car crashes are unavoidable, but they aren’t. FWIW, highway transportation engineers value a life on the order of $4M, e.g. a $4M expenditure that saves a live over the service life of the expense is worthwhile.

          One of the problems facing economists and policy makers are that people don’t always make rational logical decisions. That’s among the reasons that economists get it wrong.

    • George Chidi says:

      It’s a cesspool, and it’s not especially useful for any purpose outside of a few campuses. It’s the equivalent of dynamically-updated dormitory bathroom graffiti.

      • Chet Martin says:

        In Athens, at least, it specializes in frat star humor. Much of it is pretty funny though it strays in to sexism pretty often. Rarely racist or homophobic, interestingly enough

        • Holden Caulfield says:

          Gotta agree with Chet. Considering it’s content is completely location based, you can’t credibly call Yik Yak a cesspool itself. In Athens, it’s generally great, informative (when things or events are on happening around town– for example, when a building gets evacuated), and funny with little racism or homophobia.

          If your Yik Yak content is a cesspool, then you must be in a human cesspool to be getting that content.

  3. WeymanCWannamakerJr says:

    Different world. In the early seventies campus police made Barney Fife look like Rambo. They didn’t even need a bullet in the pocket however to battle the biggest disruption on campus at the time, streakers.

    • saltycracker says:

      Only internet sites that are anonymous, lost or reportedly untraceable are those belonging to a Fed agency and requested by the press.

  4. MattMD says:

    If these events did play out like this, I can assure everyone that this isn’t the first instance of the UGA PD acting like jackasses.

    Back in the late 90’s some senior UGA administrator got after them for putting students in handcuffs over minor traffic violations and the department buying Expeditions.

    • Michael Silver says:

      Interesting quirk in Georgia law …. misdemeanors are an arrestable offense, unlike most other states. That means you could be thrown in jail for littering and be left there indefinitely until your trial date or you make bail.

      There are many poor Georgians trapped in jail because of this. This part of Georgia law must be fixed and should be pushed by Gov. Deal.

      • gcp says:

        “Unlike most other states” Slight exaggeration here. For instance DUI is a misdemeanor, which states don’t arrest for DUI? Do they just ticket them and let them drive away?

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