California State Channel Islands (CSUCI) authorities took threats posted on Facebook, a social networking Web site, very seriously last week. On Friday, April 20,18-year-old CSUCI freshman Alisha Salazar posted a general comment that appeared to draw inspiration from the Virginia Tech campus shootings of April 16.
Salazar allegedly wrote, “Alisha Salazar is going on a…school shooting spree! Watch out kiddies, better hide under that desk! hahaha.” According to CSUCI authorities, a fellow student (and neighbor of Salazar) read the posting and alerted resident hall staff, after which campus police were contacted and responded within half an hour.
“Our response is pretty dynamic depending on the facts and circumstances,” said CSUCI Campus Police Chief John Reid. “Everything in our business is subjective. It’s a judgment call. In this particular situation the threat was specific and serious. We had to at least get in contact with [Salazar] as soon as possible and try and determine at that point what the reality was,” said Reid.
Salazar was immediately pulled out of class and interrogated by campus police. Although Reid declined to comment on Salazar’s intent in posting the threat, he stated that she was “remorseful” and cooperated with authorities.
Although the Facebook community is relatively closed off (member names and information are not accessible by search engine, and profiles can only be accessed by approved Facebook “friends” and network members) authorities did consider the threat to be made in a public sphere. According to Reid, Salazar’s, would “include everybody with a CSUCI.edu email address. For all intents and purposes that’s our public, that’s our community. For us, in a certain context it is global.”
Reid said Facebook immediately removing Salazar’s profile. Facebook is an internet site that provides free accounts to anyone with an e-mail address. It allows users to make easy contact with each other through profiles created under the user’s full name. According to Facebook site traffic data, the it is “the sixth-most trafficked site in the United States.” Networks are created based on regions and school affiliations, and users may post messages on their profiles either as a general note or as a “status update” available for all the users’ friends to see.
After the campus interrogation, Salazar was taken to the Ventura County Jail, where she was released on bail. According to CSUCI communications specialist Ceal Potts, Salazar is currently suspended from class and awaits her next court date, April 26. At that time, her status as a student at CSUCI will be evaluated. According to Greg Sawyer, CSUCI’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Salazar’s case will then be heard by the university’s judicial officer as the first part of a three-step appeals process.
While they did not want to violate Salazar’s rights regarding free speech, Reid said that couldn’t ignore a threat to other students. “In no way do we want to restrict anybody’s right to freely express [herself] in an academic environment,” Reid said.