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Anonymous apps becoming danger to students

Anonymous threats on campus hard to investigate

By Rachel Cisto | 10/08/14 | Updated 10/08/14 | Posted in News, Campus News

Online anonymity is not unique to UHart; anonymous "university confession" pages and apps like Whisper and Yik Yak aren't either. But these popular networks pose challenges to the University staff who try to keep the campus safe.

"You've got to put it in perspective," says Director of Public Safety, John Schmaltz. "Some people are trying to be funny, talking for the sake of talking, some of them potentially criminal."

He says it's impossible for the University to investigate every possible online threat because there is no one dedicated to scanning the Internet for threats. Schmaltz says that Public Safety relies on students to point out things of concern online.

"When we're made aware of them, we try to evaluate the serious nature of what they may be or what they may not be and take it from there," he says.

Of course, the nature of these services means that posters aren't easy to track down.

"I think we've had two incidents, and we were able to track it down but we weren't able to pinpoint it," says Schmaltz.

He says the most recent incident was someone posting that they 'just wanted to die' - and Public Safety had determined that it was a break-up situation, but it was unclear if the poster genuinely wanted to harm themselves or if they were just upset.

Schmaltz says that investigating threats from anonymous services like Yik Yak are difficult because they are not able to pinpoint posts to a specific area or phone.

"A lot of times they come up with GPS coordinates, which really doesn't do any good to say it's your phone or my phone," says Schmaltz.

He also said that in another case, a threat was made about an incident on August 1st. While nothing happened on campus on August 1st, he said Public Safety did not receive a tip about it until August 3rd.

In a statement, Yik Yak said "In instances where posts reach a violent or illegal nature, Yik Yak works with local law enforcement to identify the location of a user and help with all investigations. Yik Yak has also built in algorithms that recognize misuse or threatening behavior, and will often block or suspend accounts based on the type of content being posted."

Director Schmaltz said that if any student felt threatened or concerned by something they saw posted anonymously, they should report it to Public Safety. Students wishing to report suspicious activity may do so by either calling (860) 768-7985 or using the anonymous tip line (860) 768-7827.

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