Image Credit: Patrick Hook-Willers
Recently elected YUSU BAME Officers, Fiks Aderemi and Simi Odukoya, released a statement on Tuesday condemning anonymous confession submission pages, with an open letter addressed to both the University of York and YUSU. In recent weeks, certain anonymous confession pages have shared submissions containing racist, inaccurate, and inappropriate information in response to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that have occurred across the US, UK and rest of the world.
The statement from Fiks and Simi reads:
“Following up from our previous statement regarding Black Lives Matter. It has come to our attention that anonymous confession pages for example ‘yorfess’ and ‘hez east fess’ have been using racist and insensitive comments that have hurt the black community. The posts have been sharing inappropriate and inaccurate information. From saying that people protesting for their rights is ‘utter ridiculousness’ to an inaccurate statement of ‘31 killed by police’. It is incredibly sad that these pages are so cowardly that they have to use their anonymity to hide behind a keyboard, and share such awful comments and photos.
It’s inexcusable for us that students within the University hold such thoughts and share these hurtful comments on the internet. We wanted to reiterate that we don’t tolerate any of the behaviour displayed. We urge the University to condemn such sites, and so we want to see these pages held accountable. Attached to this statement is a link to a letter that we have written addressing our thoughts and feelings on the situation.”
In the open letter, Fiks and Simi made it clear that “the UK is not innocent”, and that certain anonymous confession pages have “continuously used their platform to share racist comments on the Black Lives Matter movement”, knowingly “sharing racist rhetoric… disguised as free speech.” They state that the administrators of said pages have “played a part by fostering a platform where this rhetoric is tolerated and comments are deleted when others disagree.” Seeing such content creates “an unwelcoming environment” for BAME students at York, which reflects badly on York and “discourages BAME communities from coming to York to study.”
In their statement, Fiks and Simi included an official call to action for the University and YUSU to “condemn such sites that foster racism and encourage racist rhetoric.” Further to this, they have called for the administrators behind platforms that have been guilty of sharing racist rhetoric to face official disciplinary action if they are identified.
When asked about whether the letter had been acknowledged and supported by YUSU, Fiks and Simi told Nouse that “we have not heard anything from YUSU regarding our statement. We told a few sabbs about it before releasing our statement and some have shown their support.” They also alluded to a second open letter published by YUSU’s PTOs and Sabbs in which offensive anonymous confession pages are again condemned.
The officers also offered advice to students on what can be done by individuals to help take action against these platforms sharing inappropriate content. Students “can call them out, report them to the University’s new report and support website, call them out in the comments, boycott these sites and condemn them on different social media platforms.”
On the matter of what punishment could or should be faced by admins of these anonymous submission pages pages, Fiks and Simi believe that “because of the nature of the comments and [there being] a lot of repeat offenders, the admins should be held accountable.
“They have the job of actively choosing what to publish or not and they let horrible racists post inaccurate information to be spread across social media.”
The powerful letter closes with an incredibly unifying statement, calling on all members of the University of York community to “come together as a university and raise our collective voices to share our stories and remain strong in the fight against racism in the world. “Don’t be silent, don’t be ignorant. Say their names, say their stories. Black Lives Matter.”
Nouse contacted the University for a comment, to which they responded:
“The University is committed to ensuring a safe, inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. We have clear policies regarding the use of social media and students can face disciplinary action for posting offensive and discriminatory material.
"While the University has no control over the content of external websites and social media platforms, we are committed to taking action wherever we can, including reporting offensive material to the platform host and investigating incidents where offending students are identifiable.
"It is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to post racist and discriminatory material and we encourage students to join us in reporting such material directly to the platform host and/or via the University’s Report & Support tool. Anyone who has been affected by offensive content can also access University support via these pages."
Nouse also asked YUSU for a response to the open letter, receiving the following statement from YUSU President Samara Jones:
“As a Union we stand with our BAME Officers. We have seen some of these pages continually allow racist submissions to be posted. This is unacceptable.
“The Sabbatical team have worked hard behind the scenes for months, to try and take longer term action to tackle the abuse and damage these pages cause for the community at York. They have pressured the University to take action and have used the weekly Sabbs in Short email (26th February) to ask that students reconsider both submitting and posting hateful comments and re-evaluate how they use their online presence.
“We know more must be done so we pledge to call out racism and hate speech wherever we see it. We ask that you do the same. You can do this by reporting any posts you see or by submitting information about people involved with the posts and sites. We ask students to consider whether they should follow these pages. In viewing and engaging with the hateful comments we have seen posted throughout the year, the behaviour is given a mouthpiece.
“We will be working to provide continual support to the BLM campaign and will support our BAME Officers, and all PTOs, this year on their campaigns and work.
“Please see the full Union Statement on anonymous social media that will be published on the YUSU website early next week.”