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Threats from Campus Protest Organization

The popularity of campus protest has come and gone many times over the last century. Chapter 7, “Social Media Warfare for Support of Social Causes,” covered non-campus social action. This section examines the impact of social media warfare tactics in organizing socially motivated campus protest.

In the fall of 2015, racial tensions at the University of Missouri helped to bring attention to issues that have been simmering on college campuses for a very long time; and this time, there was the backdrop of a national discussion on race relations and treatment of blacks in the United States. The issues varied between campuses, but many students stated that there was a common atmosphere in the various campuses that was inhospitable to students from racial minorities. Students were calling for more diversity among faculty and more spending on scholarships for minorities, and for resources such as cultural centers.

Tensions flared at the Columbia, Missouri, campus, where black students said school officials were not addressing racial slurs and incidents at the school. Under public scrutiny, the university president and chancellor resigned. Soon after, a Missouri college student was arrested for making death threats against black students at the school. Driven by social media warfare tactics, the protest quickly spread to universities and colleges across the country. Nationally, students said the protests in Missouri emboldened them to take a harder line. Citizen journalists were on the scene in Missouri as well as across the country to record police involvement or school representative actions and disseminate that information to the community at large and to interested activists.

Campus unrest spread beyond the University of Missouri, with students nationwide rallying in solidarity with their counterparts at the University of Missouri. The Black Student Assembly (BSA) hosted a rally at the campus of the University of California—Los Angeles; this was part of a nationwide effort by student activists who wore black in solidarity with black students at Missouri. Within a week thousands of students participated in protests at dozens of universities [15].

A consensus rapidly emerged that the problem is much larger than the events in Missouri alone; this led other schools to address similar concerns on their campuses. Some students, faculty, and alumni said the protests and academic institution leaders’ resignations are the culmination of years of racial tension at the University of Missouri and that the university has promised changes. Social media warfare drove the rapid organization and deployment of protesters.

Outrage was trending on Twitter as tens of thousands of black and other minority students tweeted their personal experiences with racism on college campuses in the United States. Other tweets noted the small percentage of black students relative to the student body, or detected hypocrisy when white students complain about affirmative action and minority scholarships, but do not complain about legacy admissions.

Consumer-generated content was rapidly filling social media platforms. The Twitter hashtag #blackoncampus was created and within a couple of days quickly went national. In less than 48 hours, over 70,000 tweets with that hashtag had been sent. Together, the tweets sent a searing and largely unheard message that reached at least one presidential candidate. “I am listening,” tweeted Senator Bernie Sanders in response, “It’s time to address structural racism on college campuses.”

As tensions grew, a 19-year-old white Missouri man was charged with making terrorist threats and posting hate messages on social media threatening to shoot black students at the University of Missouri campus. His bond was denied. Court documents said the white male expressed a “deep interest” in a recent Oregon school massacre. Police said the 19-year-old’ s threats had circulated on social media, including a favorite student messaging application called Yik Yak. Another student, at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, was charged with two counts of making a terrorist threat for sentiments he allegedly posted on Yik Yak [16].

Bear in mind that the University of Missouri controversy arose amid ongoing nationwide racial tensions surrounding instances of police violence against unarmed black men. The University of Missouri is about 120 miles west of where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot after a confrontation with a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The police officer was not charged. Chapter 7, “Social Media Warfare for Support of Social Causes,” discusses the Ferguson case and Michael Brown.

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