Internet doesn’t free speech

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The Internet hasn’t made speech freer — at least not on this campus.

In theory, the connectivity of the Internet opens up dialogue between people and provides marginalized groups a chance to share their perspectives. But I don’t see this at Queen’s.

I see the opposite — a strengthening of dominant strands of thought and the silencing of dissenting voices.

I’ve witnessed it myself when I’ve walked across campus gathering student opinions for the Journal. Some students give thoughtful, honest responses, but many are guarded.

It’s fascinating to compare the Journal’s past “Talking Heads” to those published today. In the past, students’ answers were often controversial or simply ridiculous. Now, most are safe and noncommittal.

I worry that students have equally provocative opinions today, but fear sharing them.

It makes sense. Why risk having your name and face accompany a divisive quote online for potential employers to see?

As a reporter, I’ve seen fear reflected in requests for anonymity. A leader of a protest once asked me to omit her name because she was applying to law school, and an immigration rights event organizer refused an interview to “stay off the grid”.

Add in an online mob that descends on people with differing opinions, and it’s hard to believe that anyone talks about politics.

The viciousness of online debates during this year’s ASUS elections ensured that no one but an insular, highly political group of students contributed meaningfully.

Now that social media websites and news sources can instantaneously share information with the masses, those who aim to survive require communications officers and public relations training.

As a result, it’s only the professionals with the training to be controversial that can speak publicly — journalists, politicians and public relations specialists — while the rest are best off if they don’t show up on Google at all.

In 1933, the Arts-Levana-Theology party swept to power in the AMS and banned fraternities after 1,000 students — out of a Queen’s population many times smaller than the current student body — gathered to debate the topic in a general meeting.

Such a politically charged AMS and such tremendous student involvement is unthinkable today. This week’s AMS Annual General Meeting didn’t even meet quorum, set at two per cent of all AMS members.

Our culture could afford to be more forgiving. What a 21-year-old student says today shouldn’t define their lives, and there must be room for second chances.

Otherwise, intelligent voices may be intimidated out of speaking, and we’ll all be the worse for it.

Sebastian is one of the Journal’s Features Editors. He’s a fourth-year history major.

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