Student Expelled Over Yik Yak Joke Sues Michigan Tech

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.

Michigan Tech LogoLast 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.

 

 

 

If you are worried that your teen or tween is at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Yik Yak is Happy to Cooperate with Police

yik-yak-logoHere’s a friendly reminder to teens using the Yik Yak app for posting messages that could get them in trouble if they were posted on Facebook, Instagram or on any account associated with their real name: Yik Yak is not on your team.

Yik Yak is a location-based, anonymous social media platform. The reason, in our opinion, that Yik Yak has thrived whereas a similar app, Secret, was forced to shut down is precisely that it is based on location. That is key because it serves as a local virtual bulletin board for colleges, as it was intended, and high schools, where according to the founders it was not meant to thrive.

The fact that Yik Yak is anonymous and popular at schools has led to some serious problems for students, among which is a Texas teen named Christopher Bolanos-Garza who is being held on $8,000 bail for a Yik Yak threat posted at Texas A&M University on Tuesday.

Texas-AM-YikYak

What happened next is becoming all too common. Students who saw the threat reported it to the campus police, who then contacted Yik Yak for the anonymous poster’s identity. Yik Yak did cooperate, then offered the following rationale for their actions:

“Yik Yak cooperates with law enforcement and works alongside local authorities to help with investigations. We may provide information without a subpoena, warrant or court order when a post poses a risk of imminent harm.”

Bollanos-Garza was questioned and arrested within hours of posting the threat. Yik Yak does not require a warrant or subpoena – if there is a credible threat, they willing remove the veil of anonymity as quickly as they can.

Anonymous threats on Yik Yak have been a problem since the app launched, as have cases of cyberbullying, racist and homophobic slurs and teacher bashing. It has only gotten worse after the recent college shooting in Oregon was linked to a post on another anonymous site, 4chan. Rumor has it that the pranksters on 4chan have been urging other users to make threatening posts on Yik Yak.

The message here is simple: Don’t make threatening posts online, even if you’re joking and the post is anonymous. It is ridiculously easy for you to get caught. And it’s not funny.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Facebook Really Wants Your Phone Number

You might have seen one of these headlines this week; Facebook really wants you to add your phone number to your Facebook account profile if you haven’t done so already. It’s for your own good. Really.

Does Facebook benefit from having your phone number? Yes

Any and all information that is has on its users – public or private – enhance the value of its data set to advertisers. Facebook’s business runs on the value of the ads that it serves.

Do you benefit from Facebook having your phone number? Maybe

facebook-two-factor-authFacebook states that if you give them your phone number, you will be able to turn on two-factor authentication, which is a good thing (1). In addition, and new this week, Facebook is promising to alert you if it has evidence that your account is being “targeted or compromised by a hacker suspected of working on behalf of a nation-state”. How’s that for shock value?

Is there evidence that Facebook might be running a little fast and loose with the phone numbers it already has? Yes

This is the problem as we see it.

As follows is a good example. Let’s say your phone number is already listed in your Facebook bio but is set to private, i.e. you tell Facebook not to show your number to anyone – even your Facebook friends. If someone happens to perform a Facebook search for your phone number, it pulls up your profile, whether the person doing the Facebook search is your friend or not, whether your Facebook account is set to private or public.

In this case, Facebook has told you that it won’t use your phone number (or implied it, or led you to believe it), but it is allowing others to find your account via your number, even if your account is private. How else are they using your phone number that you don’t know about? And your other data?

We’d love to hear someone from Facebook explain why private data – your phone number – is publicly linked to your account and searchable, but don’t have high expectations of that happening. As it stands we’d not be inclined to be giving them more personal information, and be looking for ways to give them less.

As always, if you disagree with something in this article, please let us know in the comments.

 

 

  1. With two-factor authentication enabled, any time your Facebook account is accessed from a new/different device or browser, Facebook will text you an authentication code so that it confirms that it is you doing the signing in.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Your Tweet Could Earn You a Visit from the Secret Service

In this day and age, it’s probably not surprising to hear that there is a thing called the Secret Service Internet Threat Desk. The group exists to monitor and protect the safety of the President and his family.

An article this week in The Atlantic (linked above) reveals some background around how the group carries out its mission, and it is quite fascinating. One example that was spawned by a series of Twitter posts:

secret-service

“One series of tweets addressed to @POTUS that caught the Secret Service’s attention—at least enough to warrant an in-person visit from an agent—came from a user with the handle @jeffgully49 and included a picture showing a doctored version of the president’s campaign posters with his head in a noose and the word “HOPE” changed to “ROPE.” The messages were apparently posted by Jeff Gullickson of Plymouth, Minnesota, who was later visited at his home by a Secret Service agent. “The agent from the secret service was cordial,” Gullickson wrote in an email to MPR News, adding that the agent just wanted to be sure his tweets were not serious threats.”

In that case, the tweeter was rewarded with a visit from the Secret Service, but nothing more happened. The Secret Service had the luxury of taking time to decide what the tweeter’s intention was, and the duty of conducting an in-person interview. In the end, no big deal. Still, though, the article goes on to outline how difficult it can be to determine whether something posted on Facebook or Twitter is a rant or a threat.

In the case of young adults and teens, this risk can be very real – not with respect to threatening the President but rather to every single thing that you post. There is a chance that it will be read, and evaluated, by someone who is deciding your short-term fate.

If you jokingly threaten a friend online, or make a snide comment about a certain race or gender, who knows how much time a college admissions officer or hiring manager will take to decide what your intent was? In our experience, not much.

The chances are good that the person seeing the post will decide – in a split second – that it’s not worth making that evaluation at all. Too much risk, too hard to tell. Move on to the next candidate.

This advice is getting very common now, but it’s still true: Think before you post. Don’t just consider what your intent is; consider how it may be perceived by someone reading it who knows nothing about you. It could make a difference in which college you got to or what your job options are.

 

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.