Mizzou Chancellor Criticized for Blocking Students Who Are Critical of School’s COVID-19 Response
- The Chancellor of the University of Missouri has blocked students on Twitter who publicly criticized the school’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- The school has 635 active reported cases and has seen a total of 1,100 cases since August 19.
- Some students say that testing is inadequate, that meals for quarantined students are small or oftentimes forgotten, and that the school is not living up to its contact tracing promises.
- A lawyer representing blocked students said that the Chancellor was violating the First Amendment by blocking them, and requested that he unblock individuals or else the matter could go to court. Several students have since said that they were unblocked.
Chancellor Blocks Students
The Chancellor of the University of Missouri is under fire for blocking students on Twitter who were critical of the way the school has handled the COVID-19 pandemic on campus.
According to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard, there are 635 active reported cases. Since August 19, there have been over 1,100 cases on the campus. Many students believe the school has failed when it comes to thorough testing, contact tracing, sanitation, social distancing, as well as its handling of students in quarantine and isolation.
Many shared those concerns on Twitter, tagging the school along with Mun Choi, the University of Missouri System President and MU Chancellor, in their posts. Many have said this resulted in Choi blocking them.
“Definitely a professional approach to addressing covid concerns. Real class act,” wrote one student who was blocked after sharing a video of sinks at the school not working, making it impossible for people to wash their hands.
At this time, it’s unclear how many students Choi blocked. University of Misery, a student Twitter account devoted to exposing and mocking the school’s fumbling of the pandemic, asked that anyone who was blocked respond to their tweet with screenshots as proof. That tweet has over one dozen replies. There are also others who did not respond to that post, but separately tweeted that they were blocked as well.
Choi’s decision to block those making their complaints public has outraged students who feel they are being silenced by the school’s administration.
“My job as a reporter is to hold the powerful accountable and be a watchdog,” one student reporter tweeted. “When the chancellor/president of the university decides to block me on here, and yet also brag about how great our (journalism) school is, that’s a huge problem.”
Attorney Asks Choi to Unblock Students
A spokesperson for the school confirmed to the Kansas City Star that Choi did in fact block people on his Twitter account. They claimed he had received rude tweets, some with profane language.
“He has been on the receiving end of messages/tweets that were disrespectful and not constructive,” the spokesperson said. “He is always open to respectful conversations with students.”
However, feeling disrespected on Twitter may not be enough for Choi to cover his bases. ABC 17 in Columbia obtained a letter sent to Choi and other school officials by Christopher W. Bennett, an attorney who was asked to represent some of the people who were blocked.
“Not only is it immoral and repugnant for President Choi to block students and other persons on social media who are trying to raise awareness of campus safety issues in the middle of a global pandemic, it is also unlawful,” Bennett argued in the letter.
Bennett claims that because this is Choi’s only public-facing Twitter account, and that since he uses it as a tool of his office, his Twitter is effectively government-controlled property.
“As President Choi’s twitter account is a government forum, blocking people for their criticism of the university’s handling of a public health crisis constitutes viewpoint-based discrimination in violation of the First Amendment,” he further wrote.
The letter asks that Choi unblock those who had been blocked, or else the matter could be escalated to a U.S. District Court. Some students have since shared screenshots showing that Choi has in fact unblocked them.
Issues at the School
Criticisms of the school range across many aspects of the pandemic. One prominent complaint is the lack of access to testing for students. At the start of September one student tweeted that even though she was showing symptoms, she was initially denied a test. The only reason she ended up getting one was because her job mandated it.
“Mizzou is hiding covid cases,” she wrote. “You need a referral in order to test (making tests inaccessible). During my appointment they said I have it but wouldn’t order me to be tested unless my work REQUIRED it. They didn’t want to report my case.”
She believes the school is limiting test access to lower its case count. Her test came back negative, which she believes is false because she has “every symptom in the book.” She has struggled to get tested a second time.
Testing is just the start of issues students have reported. Many tweets claim that meals for those in isolation have also been inadequate. One student shared a photo of their meal, which was two pieces of ravioli and a handful of broccoli. Other students have alleged that sometimes, the school forgets to feed them at all.
Another student in isolation claimed the robust contact tracing that the school has been promoting on its social media is not nearly as thorough as they claim it is. The student claims they went roughly a week in isolation without anyone contacting them about it.
As a result of these issues and the high case counts, some think the school should start asking students to pack their bags and go home. Right now, the school has not commented on any actions that will be taken as a result of these criticisms, or as a result of Choi’s decision to block students.
See what others are saying: (Kansas City Star) (ABC 17) (BuzzFeed News)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.