March 20, 2016

FROM THE EDITOR: Credibility, Anonymity and Legitimacy

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On Friday, The Sun published a news story online titled “Aided by White Nationalist Groups, Union of White Cornell Students to Release Demands, Host March” detailing an interview with two anonymous people claiming to be members of the Union of White Cornell Students and white nationalist Andrew Auernheimer.

While the legitimacy and scope of the Union of White Cornell Students remains unclear, The Sun continues to actively investigate this organization. Moving forward, The Sun refuses to continue reporting on this group until its members’ identities are verified.

We feel that we cannot continue dignifying this group’s requests for anonymity as its members prepare to host a speaker series and a white students march, continue to share inflammatory and divisive aims and become more involved on-campus. Especially as the Union of White Cornell Students plans to release a list of demands to the Cornell administration soon, it will become impossible for us to produce accurate reporting on the union’s intentions and motivations if its members refuse to provide us with their identities.

Many readers have rightly questioned whether the Union of White Cornell Students is a hoax, following a chain of 31 fake white student unions created in November. These concerns are valid, especially since white supremacist website The Daily Stormer was involved in the creation of the hoax unions and appears to be providing logistical and financial support to the Union of White Cornell students. However, several key differences distinguish the Cornell union from previous hoaxes.

In a span of four days from Nov. 19 to Nov. 23, at least 30 Facebook pages surfaced, claiming to be white student unions at various college campuses. On Nov. 21, Andrew Anglin, editor of The Daily Stormer, encouraged readers to make Facebook pages even if they did not attend the colleges. These pages shared identical statements of purpose, and several were taken down hours or days after creation. In contrast to these short-lived hoaxes, the Union of White Cornell Students was created nearly three months after Anglin’s post, has been consistently active since March 2 and has shared Cornell-specific positions and demands.

There remain many questions regarding this union. We are committed to producing the strongest stories possible, and using anonymous sources risks the quality and credibility of our reporting. We recognize the importance of taking a firm stance on the use of anonymous sources, which remains an important and contentious issue for all papers. Just last week, The New York Times instituted a stricter policy on the use of anonymous sources. Like The Times, we place utmost importance on maintaining our credibility and our reader’s trust, and we will continue doing so with our future coverage.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any concerns at editor@cornellsun.com.

—Sofia Hu ’17, editor in chief