Most Lawrentians have probably read the e-mail from LUCC regarding the potential dangers of The Facebook and the “Google mining” of potential employees done by many companies. These are completely legitimate concerns. However, Dean Truesdell’s e-mail Sunday also stated that “. inappropriate and uncivil behavior displayed in online journals and profiles have been brought to the attention of staff and promptly addressed. All students should be aware that such behavior is grounds for judicial action, and students will be held accountable for their online postings.”Initially, I’d like to ask the committee a question. If judicial action is taken against students who express “uncivil” behavior on their Web sites, will action also be taken against students who paint canvases or write stories that include such behavior to be graded in an academic class? If not, why do you consider online expression to be less legitimate than offline expression? In regard to legitimacy, remember that most blog content only attains a James Frey-like level of accuracy, incomprehensible even to Oprah. And aren’t we always being told not to believe everything we read online? Regardless, the Internet is a much more complex medium than we’d all like to think.
Howard Rheingold wrote that our environment might not be so damaged today had our great-grandparents given more thought to the ways the new automobile was changing their lives and surroundings. New technology creates new social structures, and we have a lot to learn about controlling technology in ways that will aid future adaptation and cooperation. Monitoring Web sites will not make the Internet or the Lawrence campus safer; such monitoring will stifle the Internet into mass-media oblivion. Asserting power will not stop individuals from communicating and expressing themselves. The committee needs to develop a method of online discipline that differs from offline methods. Discipline can evolve and adapt; in this case, I sincerely hope it does.
It’s laughable the Welfare Committee has laid claim to our online spaces. Students don’t just use the Internet to plan their next drinking binge. We use it to connect, learn, and show people all over the world what we do, make, say, see, write, and think, regardless of the “inappropriate or uncivil behavior” it might include. The Internet was originally a way for individuals to share information freely, and we should continue to do so. Like it or not, our future is online. So think for a moment about that e-mail you got from LUCC and how it could affect what you do online every day. Personally, the prospect of having my online space controlled by school authorities isn’t just offensive; it’s downright scary.
For more information, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s guide to online rights and safety at www.eff.org.