ATHENS, Ga. - University of Georgia police are investigating the possibility someone set up a fake Facebook account in a student's name then used it to make racially offensive posts to two minority student organizations.
The posts were made earlier this week to Facebook pages belonging to the UGA Black Affairs Council and the LGBT Resource Center. The posts sparked a protest Friday afternoon as more than 200 UGA students, faculty and administrators marched across the Sanford Stadium bridge on campus.
"I thought it was disgusting and hateful," said UGA grad student Ethan Epps. "I was embarrassed to be a part of a university where that sort of thing goes on."
UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson confirmed the alleged author of the post, a 19-year-old UGA student, filed a police report claiming he did not post any of the offensive comments. He told investigators someone set up a phony account using his name.
Williamson made clear that his officers are not investigating the offensive nature of the posts, because, he said, it is protected by the First Amendment. They are, however, looking into the possibility someone used that student's name to create a fake account. That could be a crime.
"(The student's) worked with the police to file a report," said Williamson. "We're investigating. We've done a number of things with Facebook already to preserve evidence and also get subpoenas to collect certain evidence, and we'll hopefully have an outcome in a few days."
Black Affairs Council President Caroline Bailey said she was aware that the posts may be the result of a phony Facebook account, but she said it still demonstrates a climate where this kind of behavior can happen.
"The post allows us to bring attention to the fact these things are happening, that someone feels comfortable enough to post these things on someone page, regardless of who did it," said Bailey. "It's the fact that someone would feel comfortable enough to say it."
UGA Vice President of Student Affairs Victor Wilson was quick to condemn the posts in a statement.
"Acts of this nature are deplorable and are a threat to the learning environment we seek to create at the University of Georgia," wrote Wilson. "They also remind us that ignorance is still alive and well. We acknowledge that this act is a symptom of a larger issue that we must seek to address."
Bailey and others said the protests were to draw attention to a climate where they said this type of thing can happen.
"It doesn't matter who made the post," said student Breonta Mitchell. "It's the fact that someone made the post at all."
"It's funny to you. It's not funny to us," said UGA sophomore Ecil Hasty.
Hasty works at the LGBT Resource Center.
"This is a culture that we live in that says these kinds of things are okay. It's not OK. Whoever posted those thought they were harming the person who was supposedly posting them, but they're also harming us," Hasty said.
UGA President Jere Morehead issued a statement Friday afternoon.
"The University of Georgia is committed to a welcoming and positive environment that fosters educational growth and understanding," Morehead said. "My administration, working closely with the Vice President for Student Affairs and other administrators, faculty and staff, will continue to support an inclusive and understanding atmosphere at the University of Georgia."