Racial slurs. Endless repetitions of “White Power.” Statements of support for Adolf Hitler.
Messages like these appeared with regularity in the online chat that appeared with a live video feed of a Monday night discussion by Oregon State University students about racism.
And those messages may have a source in an online message board:
Just minutes before the event started, an anonymous user posted a link to the chat on a site called 4chan.org, and called upon users of the site to message it.
More than 500 anonymous comments followed on 4chan over the next few hours. Users, who appeared to be watching the video, mocked the speakers with racist and sexist slurs, and made threats aimed at specific speakers in the forum.
“ISIS can't come soon enough,” wrote one post, referring to the extremist group implicated in numerous terror attacks.
Multiple posts were from users who claimed they attended OSU.
“I go to OSU and I'm raging pretty hard here,” wrote one poster, who dismissed the claims of racism with a number of expletives.
The thread appeared in the “Politically Incorrect” section of 4chan, a site that has drawn criticism as being a source of cyber bullying.
While the comments were appearing on 4chan, a series of similar remarks were appearing alongside the live video feed OSU hosted. OSU said the video feed drew more than 3,000 viewers. Viewers of the video were allowed to anonymously comment online.
Students in the discussion followed the video chat’s comments on their smartphones and read them aloud to the more than 500 people who attended the meeting, which was intended to be a forum for students of color to talk about their experiences with racism on campus. More than 20 students, mostly women, spoke about feeling unsafe on campus and incidents in which they were targets of racism at OSU.
OSU spokesman Steve Clark said the commenters on the video chat are protected by the First Amendment, except when it relates to making threats.
“We seek to not violate free speech requirements,” he said.
In the case of threats made by students, he said, OSU officials would first attempt to educate the person who made them. If the threats continued, however, officials could take action, including expulsion, against students.
Clark said OSU officials were examining the comments to see if IP addresses could be traced back to their sources. He said he did not know if any originated on campus or in Corvallis. He said OSU's policy on social media is limited in what it can allow to be deleted.
He said policies regarding student privacy would prevent him from being able to speak about whether students eventually are disciplined for making comments.
“Some people acted in vile, racist ways,” he said. “I don’t know where they were coming from, but they were offensive in many cases and hurtful in many cases.”
He noted that just because people have the right to say something does not always mean they should.
“Many of those (comments) were reprehensible and that’s not who we are at Oregon State or in Corvallis,” he said.
OSU President Edward Ray addressed the issue in an email to the Oregon State community Tuesday.
“I feel it is also important to note that the racist, negative and hateful comments and behavior that were captured on social media during Monday’s ‘speak out’ are unacceptable and are completely against our values and aspirations as members of the Oregon State University community. We should not tolerate such behavior. I know that as president of this university, I will not tolerate it,” he said.
Ray said he plans to meet on Nov. 23 with the students who organized Monday's event.
“We will review what we learned at the meeting and discuss what immediate next steps Oregon State can take to address concerns; improve safety; and effectively and measurably ensure that OSU is a more collaborative, inclusive and caring community that strives for equity and equal opportunity," Ray said. "I pledge to provide the Oregon State community an update of next and specific steps by the end of fall term.”