There are far too many stories that involve teens and young adults getting tripped up using social media. Here’s another one, this one involving a Michigan Tech (MTU) student and Yik Yak.
Last November Matthew Schultz, a student at the school, took to anonymous app Yik Yak and posted the following: “Gonna shoot all black people… a smile tomorrow,” followed by a smiley face emoji. Upon first reading that, it is easy to think that his intention was to actually shoot people, not shoot them a smile. Schultz has insisted from the beginning that it was a joke. We tend to agree. The problem is that racial tensions were running high that month, as Black Lives Matter protests were taking place at Missouri and other colleges.
Another student screen grabbed the post, cropped out the “a smile tomorrow” part and forwarded it to MTU’s police staff, who quickly acted.
Campus police reached out to Yik Yak to identify the poster. Yik Yak did so, but also informed the officers that the post had been cropped. Despite learning the full content of the original post, the police charged Schultz with a domestic terrorism felony (charges were later dropped entirely).
University officials, based on the felony terrorism charge, elected to suspend and then expel Schultz from the school. Schultz was not permitted to appeal at any point in the process. Now Schultz is suing, claiming that the school is using him as a scapegoat to show that they are serious about race relations.
Our take on this train wreck is pretty simple. Schultz should not have posted a joke that could have been construed as a violent threat. He did, though, and now the cleanup is unlikely to be quick or simple.
That being said, this is supposed to be an institution of higher learning, and this should have served as a teaching moment. While the police were right to act quickly, they were wrong to press charges when they knew the post was in all likelihood a joke. While it was reasonable for MTU to suspend Schultz briefly while investigating the matter, the 18-month suspension and then expulsion were way overboard.
Cooler heads should have prevailed here.
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