When things start heating up: A look at Facebook fights
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Students have seen their fair share of arguments on Facebook. Whether it’s feminism, police brutality, or racial profiling, current controversial issues find their way onto social media in heated debates and confrontations. Recently, the Class of 2017 Facebook page was shut down after a student reported a dispute getting out of hand to the administration. Though the page was reinstated with a posting policy, the incident left people questioning the role of the administration, rights concerning freedom of speech, and the level of respect in online arguments.
The page erupted when a student posted a meme depicting a sliced sausage, captioned, “The Caitlyn Jenner Challenge.” Many soon voiced their discomfort with the photo and requested that it be taken down. Students questioned the relevance and propriety of such a joke on a Facebook page meant for academic purposes. Upperclassmen and sophomores alike began to argue over the issue of transgender men and women. The transphobic and offensive nature of some of the comments prompted the admin of the page to delete the post, which had totaled over 40 comments.
Students are left wondering when it is necessary for faculty to intervene.
“If the cyberbullying can be connected to members of the same school community and if it creates a negative or hostile environment, the school can/should address it,” DOE Special Assistant, Guidance and Social Counseling Danielle Ehsanipour remarked. “The DOE doesn’t routinely monitor social media. We get involved when a post or situation is brought to our attention by students, parents, and/or law enforcement.”
Dean Robin Figelman further explained, “When a student comes forward with the information that’s posted on Facebook that offends them and has proof of that, then we get involved. [The administrators] discuss as a group what the course of action would be. Most of the time, it’s pulling the kids into a room and notifying the parents about the inappropriate post on Facebook and how it affects other people.”
Some students feel that the administration should be notified when arguments are blown out of proportion. “[The administration] should also be notified when someone becomes a scapegoat for the mess, and is purposely targeted to redirect the issue rather than the issue being addressed itself,” sophomore Rheo Aguilar stated. “It counts as a form of cyberbullying and it can really hurt a person who merely tried to either stop the fighting or tried to get their point across.”
Others believe that it is inappropriate for them to interfere with issues that occur off school grounds. “Facebook, I believe, is separate from school and it should be kept that way. School administrations are getting too nosy, trying to impose their discipline even in places where they shouldn’t have that power,” junior Thomas Wong said.
Questions regarding freedom of speech then arise. Some students believe that the faculty should not have the authority to hinder their online activity. “I’m opposed to censoring students’ Facebook posts…. it encourages students to stay ignorant and sheltered from what they disagree with instead of opening them up to new ideas,” stated sophomore Daniel Khaldarov.
On the other hand, the right to freedom of speech may be seen as a defense for offensive comments. “It’s extremely tiring to hear the argument of ‘freedom of speech,’” Rheo expressed. “I understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, however, it is also an excuse for students to just attack whoever they please online and receive no consequences. People should be able to express themselves in a respectable way, rather than making jokes or being directly offensive in their Facebook posts.”
The pursuit for freedom of speech seems at odds with the disappearance of the computer screen, as online disputes fizzle out in school. Many students see the Internet as a mask, and an impassioned commenter may be silent or seemingly apathetic offline. With the transience of contentions over controversial issues, people question the effectiveness and productiveness of using social media as a public forum for debate. Sophomore Clarisse Tam added, “If you truly feel like speaking your mind, at least have the courtesy to do your research in the topic first, rather than basing all your argument on just opinion or baseless information.”
However, social media enables the presentation of an amalgam of different perspectives that may not typically be heard by public ear. “I think it’s great that students get a medium to not only express their opinions, but be exposed to that of their peers as well,” junior Yaseen Mohamed shared. Thomas added, “sometimes meaning can be lost on a computer screen and more misunderstandings could be created…They shouldn’t be punished for immature things they post, but they should learn to watch what they post and how it could affect others.”