An Instagram meme account mocking UAA was connected to USUAA president Alec Burris’s phone number and personal email address.
The account, called uaa_memes, started posting in mid-April and has mocked the university’s budget decisions and administration. One meme poked fun at parking struggles with a caption that said: “Who needs transportation anyways[?].”
Another meme related on the management of the university’s budget and the cost of the Alaska Airlines Center said, “at least the athletes get a nice gym.”
When Burris’s phone number was added to someone’s contacts, uaa_memes became a suggested contact to follow on Instagram. The email address associated with the account was firstname.lastname@example.org, and Burris’s personal email address was listed as a secondary recovery account.
Burris denied that he had created the Instagram page, saying that he has been trying to figure out who has his information and is behind the account.
“Anyone could’ve gone in and tied my personal email or phone number to [the account]. Those are things that are widely circulated,” he said.
Instagram will send a verification code to the given number if a user links a phone number to their account. A similar process takes place when someone lists a secondary email address; an email is sent to that given address to confirm the email for recovery purposes. Accounts cannot be created until it’s been verified through a phone number or email.
Burris said he wasn’t familiar with the specifics of these verification processes and that he hadn’t received any email regarding recovery in his personal email inbox.
In the initial interview with Burris, he said that the uaa_memes account was “really good,” though he did not know who had created it. He then said that he wished it was him and he would gain “street cred” if The Northern Light wrote a story saying Burris was the person behind it.
USUAA’s mission statement says that their goals include promoting educational needs and the rights of students. It also emphasizes that the student government serves “as a forum for students to express their ideas for enhancing the quality of their educational experience through expanded and improved communications among students, faculty, administration and beyond.”
The memes account expressed students’ concerns and criticisms of the university by mocking and ridiculing the institution’s management and decisions.
One meme about UAA’s search for a Title IX coordinator said “your safety is our top priority” in quotation marks accompanied by screenshots of the Title IX investigator positions being vacant. This post followed news that Sara Childress, formerly an investigator, had been chosen for the coordinator position.
The uaa_memes account was created shortly after Josiah Nash, USUAA student ombudsman, started a different account called uaailluminati on Instagram, which featured memes that were directed at USUAA members. It was a way to archive memes exchanged between both UAA and UAF’s student governments on Snapchat, Nash said.
“We have a statewide student government group chat and Snapchat, so our student government and [ASUAF] go at each other. We have all these memes attacking each other,” he said.
Multiple people within USUAA had access to uaailluminati, and it was deleted within the same day that The Northern Light reached out for comment. It’s unclear who deleted the account, but Burris said in an email that USUAA does not want the memes associated with their public image.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Bruce Schultz, said that freedom of speech and expression are “fundamental to UAA’s mission,” even if it involves criticism of the university. However, he noted that each situation is unique and the university could take action “regarding content posted online from an employment, student conduct or criminal act perspective.”
The Northern Light reached out to uaa_memes and a UAA student claiming to be in charge of the account called from an unknown number, asking to remain anonymous. They said they had “no idea” who Alec Burris was and that they had found his phone number “randomly” on the internet. The source also claimed to have no understanding of Instagram’s verification process despite claiming they created the account.
USUAA’s Speaker of the Assembly, Alex Jorgensen, said that the page may not be “a bad thing,” but memes aren’t professional. Still, he finds positivity in humor and memes are a relevant form of expression.
“Is it the most professional thing? I don’t think so, but is it an inherently bad thing?” he said. “I think it can be because I think sometimes things can definitely cross the line where it’s more of a personal attack.”
The Northern Light requested another interview with uaa_memes to follow-up and received no response. The account was deleted within the same day.