In defence of Spotted: Glasgow Uni Library and the importance of free expression.

The views in this article are those of the author, not qmunicate magazine or Queen Margaret Union.


In recent days, with exams looming and everyone flocking to the library to revise in peace and quiet, the Glasgow Uni Library Spotted page has been fired up once more.

Comments vary from occasional witty one-liners that sound like shit chat up lines to the truly terrible such as “You made me touch myself”. The latter category only stands to get a laugh through shock value, or, at worst, offend and creep out those reading. Now, there is no argument that such comments are vile and unfunny, but I’ve found the general call to have the page banned a bit strange. Just because some people think that something is bad does not mean that something should be banned. Is this even democratic?

The numbers of signatures on the petition to have the Glasgow Spotted page banned at the time of writing only stood at 121, with the page itself having over 10,000 likes. The page is essentially an opt-in service; you have to like the page to see the comments and statuses, so why don’t we just ignore the page instead of banning it? Do we actually think the creepier commenters will disappear along with their comments? If being exposed to the extremes of the page has highlighted that the university still has issues with sexism on campus, surely this can be a good thing – we can recognise it and take steps to deal with it rather than brushing it under the carpet. Banning the page on the pretext of a few hand-selected statuses would address the symptom, but it isn’t a cure.

I am in general very uncomfortable with the idea of banning the offensive.  I came to university to get educated, not only so that I can one day find a good job, but also to be exposed to new ideas that I would not otherwise found in my shithole of a hometown. I know that sounds cheesy, but the chance that I could miss out on some thought or revelation because it was deemed to be too controversial upsets me. This all sounds very grand for an article written to defend a page where the posts accumulate to mirror the Metro’s lost love page, but I’m not trying to defend it or argue that it is harmless banter. What I am saying it that this debate represents something larger.

To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, there is something vile in humanity that makes us willingly sell part of our freedom for more security. We all have the right to be offended. The push to ban this page because the comments are outrageous, or might cause offence comes from the same vein of thought that sends people to unofficial prisons without fair trial in the name of national security. I am not arguing that the banning of a creepy Facebook page and Guantanamo are in anyway equal, only that they are very distant relatives of the same ideological thought. They both share the same removal of freedoms taken to different extremes.

In Britain, this ideology has shaped politics and as a result we have a very interesting relationship with freedom of speech. Unlike our cousins across the Atlantic, we don’t have this right enshrined in law; this is why in Britain you can be charged with inciting hate, racism and libel, or defamation for those of us north of the wall.

All these acts are reprehensible, however the way we protect ourselves from these things also leads to absurd situations, like MPs naming Footballers who have had affairs in Parliament to get around injunctions, or a café owner having to pay a fine for displaying bible passages on a TV that offended passers-by, or in 2005 when an Oxford student got arrested and charged £80 for calling a police horse “gay”. Despite a media backlash, the latter case was only dropped when the student refused to pay the fine.

It all sounds very funny, but how many other cases like this went through because the media didn’t catch wind? In 2012 Rowan Atkinson and the group Reform Section 5 successfully campaigned to change the law regarding the right to cause insult. Before this landmark campaign however, the same laws that were intended to shield us from offence were used to ban discussion of homosexuality to “protect” our children, all the way into the early 2000’s in England and Wales. Similarly, Russia has recently brought about strikingly similar laws, causing uproar around the world. But whilst it’s good that we recognise this as wrong, we shouldn’t forget our own murky past, or the thoughts and feelings that brought us to that point.

I don’t agree with banning the page, but by no means am I comfortable standing shoulder to shoulder with people announcing their toilet wanks. We are all allowed to be offended, and I understand the offence caused by some of the content. However, our right to be offended does not outweigh our freedom to say what we feel like, even if it is shite banter.

Scott Wilson’s qmunicate article damning the sexist behaviour on Spotted: Glasgow Uni Library and the uncomfortable environment it creates can be found here.

[Alex Osborne]


  1. The thing is, freedom of speech has to be treated responsibly. Would you let someone post an incredibly racist or extremist comment on the Spotted page? No – it’d get taken down pretty quickly almost every time. Would a sexist status be treated with the same severity? Almost never.
    I’m all for the freedom of speech – it’s a fundamental human right and an important part of functioning civil society, but people MUST be responsible and sensible. The same goes for every human right. You’re expected to act with maturity so that you do not encroach upon the rights of others.
    Everyone has a right to use the universities facilities without being harassed, and people projecting their fantasies on a stranger will undoubtedly make many people uncomfortable. Either place guidelines on the Spotted pages (i.e. more statues about desk hogs, etc, which are damn well more funnier than a toilet fantasy), and run lectures/seminars/events about sexism on campus to educate students, OR close the page down until people learn to behave.
    If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. It’s as simple as that.

    1. It’s not that simple. In fact it’s rather ignorant to assume such.

      Look, like it or not – offensive stuff exists. This is not only on social media, but in television. We don’t censor television and film because a minority takes offence.

      Inbetweeners, The Office, Misfits, Fresh Meat – British shows that have offensive humour, and with that humour comes complaints. Jokes directed at handicapped, be it physical or mental, minorities etc.

      We should not cater to the individual. Ever. We should cater to the majority, why? Because the Majority rule. It’s in our political system, it’s in our economy, it’s in the bases of war. It’s simple evolution. If more than 10k people speak against the page, take action. But if lower than even 10%, why bother?

    2. The definitive?

      “You’re part of the problem.”

      Hardly, and the assumption that anyone in support of a group who demonstrate acts of free speech (Something we rarely get in the Nanny and PC state of Britain) is frankly ignorant and misguided.

      Regardless if posted on facebook anonymously, or told to friends at the bar or kept internally, that thought and that experience still exists. Has anyone been shamed to a point where it has ruined their life? Or shamed to a point where it as effected them academically or socially in anyway? No.

      I’m not going to agree with everything posted, some things are not in my taste of humour. Some things are. Just like my humour may not appeal to everyone else.

      We’ve been brought up in today’s society to believe “Everyone is special” we are all snowflakes and our opinions matter. I wish it were true, but it’s not – and majority matters. If the Majority support this page opposed to the minority who don’t, why disband it? After all the evolution of society to this point in time has all been about Majority i.e Politics, Money, even war to many aspects.

      Television and Films containing offensive humour survive because of this majority rule. I’m sure many Handicapped, Minorities, Old people, and Various religions have been offended by the likes of South Park, Family Guy and yes even The Simpsons. I have no doubt a group wish to have these shows banned, do the majority wish to see these shows banned – despite the clear insults being formed? No.

      If you want this page to be brought down – complaining that those who enjoy the content (The majority) is not the way to do so. Rally those with a common cause and not through harassment of belittlement. I and others are entitled to our opinion of the page just as you are, it makes me no less a good person to enjoy dark humour than it does you to not enjoy it.

      Gather more people against the page. Let the voice of majority be heard. Democracy.

    3. You say you’re “all for the freedom of speech”, but later go on to suggest guideline be put in place. That’s not freedom of speech at all. Also, you seem to have missed the point that viewing the spotted page is optional.

    4. “I’m all for the freedom of speech – it’s a fundamental human right and an important part of functioning civil society, but people MUST be responsible and sensible.”

      You can’t have it both ways. You are either for freedom of expression or not. You cannot say we should only allow freedom of expression if people are responsible and sensible. Dealing with misogynists, racists and general morons is one of the prices we have to pay for freedom of expression.

      You may make the case that we should not therefore have freedom of expression, but I think that much more harm is likely to be done by restricting it than by allowing it. However, I may be wrong.

      As for the Spotted page, if you disagree with it you should vote with your feet: leave the page. I’m not a member. If, instead, you are worried about so many Glasgow students being on it, then you should take the issue up with them. This is exactly what Scott Wilson did when he wrote his article.

      By the way, I think this is an excellent article.

      1. Scott Wilson’s article was a complete joke. It was a rushed and heavily biased attempt at pleasing a small group of people, without conducting any thorough research on the matter.

      2. After thinking about it for two years, I no longer agree with what I wrote here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s