Rights and Wrongs
For most people, authoritarians are always the administrators who take the other side of a given debate. But in concrete terms, what seems to concern these self-styled defenders of student freedoms is an uneasiness with the College punishing students who hold opinions contrary to its own. “Is membership in the Republican Party less an affront to ‘our deepest values’ than membership of the Fly?” Professor Lewis, along with three colleagues, asked last year. Other critics have echoed this sentiment: Students, wrote former Undergraduate Council president Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15 about the initial sanctions, “are now being taught that it is acceptable to threaten and silence those who have different social and political beliefs than they do.”
“Who should decide what is hate speech in an online global community?” That’s the question Richard Allan, Facebook’s Vice President for Policy in the Middle East and Asia, is asking in the wake of reporting on the social network’s content moderation guidelines. Reporting group ProPublica’s headline—“Facebook’s Secret Censorship Rules Protect White Men from Hate Speech But Not Black Children”—captures our almost dystopian fear of an all-powerful corporation rigging political discourse to serve shareholders, advertisers, and procrastinators the world over. Just imagine the 7,500-strong “community operations team” as uniformed propagandists searching for content that bucks the party line, and your Orwellian masterpiece is off to a fine start.
My test of courage went south when I began imagining how, in my CVS-bought flip flops, one of the creatures would bite onto my big toe and send me scurrying to George Washington Hospital for weeks of rabies vaccines. I fled towards the cover of streetlights feeling a mixture of terror and embarrassment. The notion that I needed to do anything other than continue walking at my ordinary pace was, I told myself, “just an emotional reaction.” And sometimes I like to think that my judgments come from a more trustworthy source.