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.