Home Tech How Sidechat Fanned the Flames of Protests on College Campuses

How Sidechat Fanned the Flames of Protests on College Campuses

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How Sidechat Fanned the Flames of Protests on College Campuses

In the months since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, conversations on university campuses have been characterized by palpable tension. The rise of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric entangled numerous universities in debates over free speech. In late April, as the war between Israel and Hamas entered its fifth month, students at Columbia University and other institutions across the United States began protesting for a ceasefire. Amid all this, one platform has served as a locus: Sidechat, a social media app that has become both a venue for dialogue about the protests and a breeding ground for hate speech.

In recent weeks, as demonstrations broke out at Columbia, NYU, Yale, Princeton, the University of Texas and elsewhere, students led to application to share memes and express dismay at their administrators’ responses.

On April 22, after a weekend of arrests in colombiaColin Roedl, editorial page editor of the student-run newspaper Columbia Daily Viewer he told blackboard students saw “calls to solidarity” in the application. The next day, some 3,000 Columbia employees, students and community members signed a letter to university president Minouche Shafik, the school’s board of trustees and deans, supporting “campus security and academic freedom.” “. It included a link to a folder of Sidechat screenshots showing people asking how to join camps on campus and discussions about Zionism.

On Tuesday, the New York Police Department arrested hundreds of protesters at Columbia and the City College of New York.

Before the protests, administrators at other universities, including Harvard and Brown, had sought to increase moderation on Sidechat, citing increased reports of harassment and hate speech by students using the platform. The rhetoric on the app had become “dehumanizing, racist, homogenizing (and) hateful,” says Aboud Ashhab, a Palestinian student at Brown. Andrew Rovinsky, a Jewish student at the university, calls it “a cesspool.”

Because the app’s defining feature is student speech conducted anonymously (users do not post under their real names), toxic messages and degrading language flow freely. “What you see on Sidechat is a group of people engaging in the most vile rhetoric you’ve ever seen, because it’s anonymous,” Rovinsky says.

Released in 2022 As a mechanism for college students to whisper about what was happening on campus, Sidechat quickly spread across American universities. Like the first version of Facebook, the app requires a university email address to log in, and while it initially served as a hub for gossip and collective complaints, university administrators began to notice more discussions. heated discussions on the platform in recent months and implored Sidechat to strengthen its content moderation.

While the application user guidelines claim that the platform does not allow content that “perpetuates the oppression of marginalized communities by promoting discrimination (or hatred) against certain groups of people,” both Sidechat and its predecessor Yik Yak have come under fire for facilitating an online environment that bodes well for hate speech.

In fact, before Sidechat Yik Yak acquisition In 2023, Yik Yak took a four year break following a barrage of complaints about racism, discrimination and threats of violence circulating on the app. The hateful comments in the months following the October 7 attack suggest that Sidechat isn’t all that different from its predecessor.

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