My question from all of the readings this week (Habermas on the public sphere, Mark Poster, “Cyberdemocracy”, and Pieter Boeder, “Habermas Heritage: the future of the Public Sphere in the Networked Society”) is do we really have freedom of speech or are we always being watched, judged and assessed?
People can say what they want and freely express themselves online, but there can be consequences to a person's actions. Alexandra Wallace, a UCLA student, posted a vblog on YouTube which gained national attention. Her video gained over 30 thousand views, a corresponding video commenting on her video gained over 2 million views, and the story was covered by Fox News.
The interesting thing about this video is how a comment on the original posted video gained more views and comments then the original video that was posted. Interesting how David So, a stand up comedian, used Alexandra's video, which went viral, to gain over 2 million views on his vblog comment. Even though our discussion is not about how this other individual capitalized on another persons controversial video, it is worth taking note that this comedian used this other person's video to gain viewer ship and popularity as a comedian.
The UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block said "Like many of you, I recoil when someone invokes the right of free expression to demean other individuals or groups," he wrote in a statement posted on the university's website. Earlier Friday (March 18th, 2011), university officials said they would not discipline Wallace because her video was an exercise of free speech, not hate speech, and it didn't violate the student code of conduct.
From this incident, she has withdrawn from school due to harassment from her peers. She wrote "The video has led to the harassment of my family, the publishing of my personal information, death threats and being ostracized from an entire community. Accordingly, for personal safety reasons, I have chosen to no longer attend classes at UCLA. I was trying to produce a humorous YouTube video, but instead offended the UCLA community and the entire Asian culture."
This looks like cyberdemocracy at work which by definition is "the use of information technologies and communication technologies and strategies in political and governance processes." Alexandra has administered a form of self governance and discipline on herself in this situation by withdrawing herself from school. The other is facing ridicule and embarrasement from online and offline communities. Even though the Chancelor of the school was looking at wheter her actions violated the school conduct code, and later the school found that her actions were not a violation, the video had spread all over the internet which caused her to be black balled and harrased.
Lets use a quote from Poster in this situtation at UCLA, "To ask then about the relation of the Internet to democracy is to challenge or to risk challenging our existing theoretical approaches and concepts as they concern these questions" (Poster, 1995). So lets take the definition of democracy which is a "form of political organization in which all people, through consensus (consensus democracy), direct referendum (direct democracy), or elected representatives (representative democracy) exercise equal control over the matters which affect their interests."
The matter that affected our interest in this example was the issue of racism in Alexandra's video which looking at people's comments online a majority of the people found offensive. With the issue of racism in question, certain actions has stated above were taken by the Chancelor of the school making a public comment and looking into the violation of school code. The other part of this is the negative publicity she gained and probably embarrassment. Some of the online bloggers think that this was not enough and others think that this girl has been harrased enough. I think she has learned her lesson unless she enjoys all of the negative publicity.
Everyone has freedom of speech when it comes to the internet and yet out of this girl freely expressing herself online she received backlash from her comments. So do we really have freedom of speech online or do we have to watch what we say and does this stifle our freedom of speech? You have the right to say whatever you want as long as it does not cause harm or offend the public. For example, you are not allowed to shout "fire" in a crowded movie theater since this will cause people to panic and possibly trample each other when trying to get out of the theater.
Yet we have the freedom to say anything else which leads me to my point about the freedom of speech arguement as in the example of this UCLA video. You have the right or free will to say what you want and this right is given freely, except when it offends or possibly could bring harm to other people. Did she receive just punishment by having to withdraw from school and receiving death threats? I think democracy or cyberdemocracy fairly decided the verdict for her in this case so far without the cause for legal ramification.