OREGON — A student senator at the University of Oregon intends to hand over to university administrators the IP addresses of blogs he said contain “hurtful” speech and may violate the university’s student conduct policy.
Now, First Amendment advocates have taken notice of the senators’ actions and say they could potentially trample the bloggers’ First Amendment rights.
Miles Sisk, senate vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon, said on Oct. 22 that he plans to give the IP addresses of blogs, containing content that Sisk said was a form of “cyberbullying,” to university administration for possible violations of student conduct if they were not terminated in 48 hours, the Daily Emerald reports. The “repeat offenders” have been identified as the anonymously run Tumblr sites ASUO Progressive Problems and ASUO Conservative Problems.
Sisk said he has not yet handed over the IP addresses to university administration.
The blogs contain mocking observations, often in the form of memes, about campus political groups, figures and events.
The UO student government does not have the authority or jurisdiction to punish or halt the anonymous users of the blogs, Sisk said. Any enforcement of a violation of student conduct pertaining to harassment or intimidation would be handled by university administration.
“My goal, personally, was just to make an announcement that I was going to obtain the IP addresses of the owners of the blog,” he said, “and then hand it over to the University of Oregon administration and let administration decide what to do with that information from there. It was kind of a hands off process.”
Although OU officials did not return requests for comment from the Student Press Law Center, Chicora Martin, assistant dean of students, told the Emerald the university does not have a “specific code by which we deal with cyberbullying.”
Sisk, who had told the Emerald the posts were forms of cyberbullying, has since backed down from that comment saying that he may have gone “too far” in characterizing them that way, but has said he has seen people that he knows in ASUO have “definitely been very hurt by a lot of what these posts have had to say.” Sisk said he still hopes the university will take the proper course of action.
“I just want the university administration to take care of it,” he told the Student Press Law Center.
The idea of suggesting to shut down or censor the websites containing critical posts have not come without criticism from First Amendment advocates. Will Creeley, director of Legal and Public Advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said trying to silence speech “that you simply don’t like because it offends you violates the principles behind the First Amendment.”
“It’s truly protected speech, and quite obviously protected speech, so any censorship or silencing of the speech would be a big problem,” he said.
Creeley did point out that the First Amendment does have it’s exceptions when dealing with speech that is truly intimidating or threatening to others.
“If the speech met the definitions of harassment — that is if it was so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively limited the ability of University of Oregon’s students to take advantage of the educational opportunities at the school — that would also be grounds for potential university action,” Creeley said. “But the websites that we are talking about here don’t approach either of those standards, either harassment or intimidation.”
Creeley said he believes the students running the Tumblr sites should continue to publish posts and be “very aware of their First Amendment rights to do so.”
“I think the student senator should by all means continue to criticize the Tumblr sites, but should recognize that at some point he’s only drawing more attention to them,” Creeley said. “I checked out those Tumblr sites and I wasn’t going to do so before, but now I and probably many students on the University of Oregon campus are more aware of them than they would have been otherwise.”
Sisk said he’s not happy with how much attention the blogs have received in the news, saying that the intention was “to make these blogs go away so that they wouldn’t become so incredibly publicized.”
“The student government has such a negative image already that the existence of these blogs makes it even worse, and it’s hurt and they are saying hurtful things about people,” Sisk said. “And the fact that they are now being reported on, it’s apparently going over to other organizations, the news about these is really the exact opposite of what I wanted to do, which was just make them stop. Now everybody knows about them.”
Contact SPLC staff writer Michael Bragg by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.