ASG race shrinks after Yik Yak scandal

The race for Allegheny Student Government president has narrowed and complicated with the departure of the Reiser-Biniewski campaign on Sunday, Feb. 27.
The ticket, which was comprised of Andi Reiser, ‘23, for president and Lucas Biniewski, ‘23, for vice president, posted a statement on Instagram at around 7:30 p.m. that evening formally announcing their decision to drop out of the race, decrying the spread of misinformation about their campaign on the anonymous social-media platform Yik Yak and accusing the campaign of Peter Alegre, ’23 and Kyrie Doniz, ’23, of being behind some of the rumors on Yik Yak.
“We will be putting a formal request in for an investigation from the judicial review board for unethical practices by the Alegre/Doniz campaign,” read the statement, which appeared to be written by Biniewski. “We have confirmation that someone working with them has been distributing false information.”
Alegre said he was blindsided by the accusation and that has not been notified of any formal charges against him.
“We deny any wrongdoing whatsoever,” Alegre said. “There has been no indication whatsoever about what evidence they have about what a supposed affiliate did, what our culpability is. All I know about that statement is either rumors that people have been telling me or not telling me and what was released in those Instagram posts.”
It is unclear what “judicial review board” the statement was referring to, though the Reiser-Biniewski campaign appears to be charging the Alegre-Doniz campaign of violating article I, section 6a, subsection i2 of the ASG By-laws which specifically prohibits “negative campaigning against other candidates.” That same section states that any infractions should be reported to the ASG Attorney General, who will take those reports to the ASG Rules Committee.
ASG Attorney General Jack Parker, ’22, who would handle any reports of election infractions, declined to comment to The Campus. In an email to The Campus, Parker said that commenting would be “irresponsible.”
There is no indication that the Reiser-Biniewski campaign has filed the request for an investigation per their statement. If there is such a request, Acting ASG advisor and Interim Dean for Institutional Diversity Tevis Bryant said due process would be observed.
“Candidates must take accountability for themselves to ensure they are aligned with Allegheny’s statement of community,” Bryant wrote in an email to The Campus. “Should any behavior occur that is not in alignment with ASG’s or the institution’s policy, the leadership for all involved parties will review any claims and take action based on said policies.
Biniewski declined to provide a full comment. “There is nothing further for us to discuss about us leaving the race,” Biniewski said in an email to The Campus.
Also remaining in the race are Veronica Green, ’23, and Rudra Schultz-Ray, ’23. Green thought that, regardless of the veracity of the accusation, a public Instagram post was not the proper avenue to lodge the complaint.
“I don’t know if (the accusation) is true, I don’t know if (the Reiser-Biniewski campaign) actually has evidence to support their claim,” Green said. “I know, though, that they shouldn’t have made it a public accusation because we have certain processes in ASG and in the college in general not to do stuff like that.”
According to CNET, the Yik Yak platform allows users to post anonymously to their “herd” — all users within a five-mile radius. The platform’s discussion threads, called “yaks,” can be upvoted and downvoted, with the most-upvoted yaks getting curated into a “Hot Feed.” Yaks that receive a net of negaitve five votes are automatically removed from the platform without needing to be reviewed by a content moderator. Yaks reported for going against the platform’s “Community Guardrails” but lacking the net negative five votes are reviewed by Yik Yak itself to determine if they should be removed.
Yik Yak is no stranger to controversy. According to the New York Times, the app has been associated with cyberbulling, mass-shooting and bomb threats, and racist speech. First launched in 2013, Yik Yak shut down in 2017 due to precipitous drops in its user base. In August of 2021, the platform relaunched with a new focus on its effects on mental health and keeping users safe.
According to all campaigns, unfounded rumors on Yik Yak have had a severe negative impact on their mental health. Green noted that many of the rumors regarded serious allegations that should have been elevated to the relevant authorities, not posted on the internet.
“A lot of things that are being said on Yik Yak should be going through other offices if there were to be a complaint to be filed,” Green said. “Bias reports or Title IX accusations, stuff like that should never be posted on Yik Yak in any forum. It’s because they’re anonymous that they’re willing to say these types of things, even if they are false. It’s just because people don’t have to take accountability for what they say, that they feel completely willing to interfere with an election that, in two years, won’t have any impact on any of the people running.”
One reason the announcement came as a surprise to the remaining candidates was because the three campaigns met Friday to discuss Yik Yak in what Alegre described as a “very friendly room.”
Schultz-Ray said that he spent the Friday meeting advocating for the three tickets then in the race to stand as a “united front” in keeping the race focused on the concerns of the student body.
“When we appear to be coherent and we appear to actually be sticking together and working together, this kind of rampant rumor-spreading and mudslinging (on Yik Yak) would die out,” Schultz-Ray said. “I made it clear that we cannot make a stance on Yik Yak. The moment we talk about how bad Yik Yak is is the moment that people will start screaming about it on Yik Yak. We just wanted to avoid that being spread and hopefully dampen down the competitiveness between all of the tickets.”
Alegre also said that the allegations made by the Reiser-Biniewski campaign were problematic given their account’s nature as an official campaign account and the language stating that accusation has verifiable truth behind it.
“To levy something that we’re all being affected by (against) one campaign is dangerous and irresponsible,” Alegre said. “I’m fighting two campaigns, one about the allegation and one (for president). The impact that it is having on us is outsized. I’ve been confronted, even interrogated about what has happened, I find myself doubting whether this is a respectful, inclusive community, knowing that (Reiser and Biniewski) have put the full weight of who they are behind that statement.”
As ASG’s director of finance, Biniewski oversees the approval and distribution of funds to clubs, and as director of environment and sustainability, Reiser works with students to complete projects focused on sustainability. Alegre, who is the president of the ASG-recognized Association for Asian and Asian-American Awareness, said he was concerned about being able to make finance requests now.
“What does this mean for my club’s finances?” Alegre said. “What will this mean for sustainability initiatives? I’m trying to work out what this will mean if I want to work with other people. Are their perceptions going to be immediately clouded? … I don’t know how to navigate that, because I can’t go to anyone else about finances.”
Schultz-Ray, who currently serves as an ASG senator for the class of 2023, also thought that the Reiser-Biniewski campaign’s statement came with extra power.
“Especially as (ASG) cabinet members, it puts them in a position where they’re representing the whole of ASG by saying (their accusation),” Schultz-Ray said.
In an ASG General Assembly on Tuesday Feb. 22, Biniewski announced that ASG bookkeeper Stacey Gerber would be leaving the position after four years and that he would be filling the position until a new bookkeeper is hired. But Doniz said that Biniewski’s statement at the Assembly was not true.
“Someone else in (the Office of Student Life) is covering that position,” Doniz said.
The Campus has not been able to independently verify Doniz’s claim.
Because Reiser and Biniewski have dropped from the race, Alegre and Doniz cannot file a complaint against their Instagram post as negative campaigning, but Doniz said that they have thought about other ways to sanction Reiser and Biniewski for their accusation.
“Through ASG, we can impeach them from their positions, but that is a very lengthy process and it will have a lot of public fallback and pushback … even for that decision to pass, we need a majority vote (from ASG),” Doniz said. “That’s something we’re not completely sure that we (have). And the other thing we could do is file with an office of the school for harassment and for slander, because that’s basically what they did.”
Alegre said that, no matter what, he thought something had to be done.
“I don’t think doing nothing is an option, because then they’re still able to do this to other people,” Alegre said, referring to the statement’s allegations. “I just honestly never thought anybody would have done that, especially someone that I considered friends.”
Moving forward, Green is hopeful that Yik Yak will not affect the election any further, though that hope is tinged with pessimism. She called on Allegheny students to interrogate what they read on the internet.
“Hopefully people take what is being said in an anonymous forum as an uncredible source, because that’s what we learn in all of our classes,” Green said. “If you don’t know who the author is, you can’t rely on that information.”
Green and Schultz-Ray will meet with Alegre and Doniz in the ASG Presidential Debate on Tuesday, March 15, in the Quigley Auditorium.