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Digital-rights activists blast feminists for demanding that colleges punish online speech

The growing divide between uneasy allies on the Left has been partly driven by disagreement over how colleges should respond to sexual-assault allegations – with a rush to judgment against male students, or a deliberative process that affords due-process rights.

A related element of that divide is concern for First Amendment rights. The digital-rights activists at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have come out swinging against dozens of feminists who want colleges to investigate and punish students for their boorish speech on anonymous platforms such as Yik Yak or ban them entirely.

In a letter to the Department of Education, which is investigating a college precisely for its response to Yik Yak posts that offended feminist students, EFF says the Feminist Majority Foundation and its allies want to take away constitutional rights:

In addition to violating the U.S. Constitution, such rules would undermine the efforts of many people who rely on anonymous speech for any number of important purposes, including groups seeking to foster gender and racial equality on campuses across the country. Over the past few years, we have seen how policies that impede online anonymity, such as Facebook’s Real Names policy, present barriers to speech for marginalized communities and others who fear retaliation for their political or social commentary.

Colleges must protect students against “unlawful harassment and true threats” but are also bound by Supreme Court precedent to protect “insulting, and even outrageous, speech,” EFF says:

Categorical and prophylactic rules restraining all anonymous speech, on the grounds that a subset of such future speech may be harassment or threats depending on a particular context, would be unconstitutional. …

RELATED: Feminists threaten Virginia university for not investigating ‘sexism’ on social media

It would disempower the very groups the policies are designed to protect by limiting their ability to speak anonymously. Anonymous speech has particular value on college campuses when students seek to advance controversial or unpopular views or otherwise avoid being the targets of threats or harassment.

The feminists’ demands put them in league with law enforcement organizations that want to compile digital dossiers on anonymous Black Lives Matter activists for “protected political activity,” the letter says.

EFF calls on universities to use their own speech to counter harassment on Yik Yak:

As the Department has previously recognized in the context of sexual harassment, “while the First Amendment may prohibit a school from restricting the right of students to express opinions about one sex that may be considered derogatory, the school can take steps to denounce those opinions and ensure that competing views are heard.”

Read the letter.

h/t Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

RELATED: Feminists think a Supreme Court ruling on K-12 speech restrictions applies to colleges

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