A FOURTH YEARITE FREELY EXPRESSES

Author’s note:

  • OP refers to Original Poster — the person who started a discussion thread. Within the forum thread others may direct comments specifically to the original poster using the OP abbreviation.
  • Facebook Groups: Though self-explanatory, any mention of the phrase specifically refers to closed groups meant for BPHC, including (but not limited to) Shoutboxx, Free_Expression, SMC@BPHC, DoTA@BPHC, etc.

The times are turbulent.

To speak or not to speak, that is the question.

The rights and duties surrounding freedom of expression are being hotly debated around the country, as the ‘liberals’ and the ‘orthodox’, the ‘nationalists’ and the ‘anti-nationals’, bicker over tolerance and nationalism and <insert-gross-simplification-of-an-intricate-philosophical-concept>. In this situation where everyone wants to express and no one wants to listen, the blurring boundaries of what’s offensive and what’s not is alarming: for one can no longer identify the proverbial line that they should toe.

SHOUTS OF THE YOUTH OF BPHC

At the forefront of this recent wave of outcries is the youth of India. And as a part of that youth, we BITSians have also taken to voicing our opinions. Despite differences, we all wish to hold high the baton for free speech. Censorship is perilous to our freedom and a lot of us have tried taking it up on the World Wide Web to air our sentiments about it. (Remember the AIB Roast or the Nirbhaya documentary?)

Armed with our Facebook forums of Free_Expression and Shoutboxx, we at BPHC seek to air concerns – ranging from national and international issues, to the various disputes centered in our own college. Without delving into a detailed history: these forums were made possible by some of our thoughtful seniors (now long gone) to let every BITSian explore the beauty of freedom of expression. Over the years, they have been our “unofficial” notice boards, ventilators for our anger, base of operations for any protests, a perennial guidance cell to address any silly query… and so much more. Our Facebook groups have become a thriving ecosystem: liberal and progressive ones at that.

Or is there more to it than meets the eye?

<EXCUSE THE FOURTH-YEARITE WHILE HE RANTS>

Of late, a new parasite is plaguing our Facebook ecosystem. Taking after the trend of hypersensitivity in the world at large, the unwillingness to tolerate arguments online seems to have become our new norm. ‘Justified moderations’ are on the rise and ‘opinion killers’ seem to be making a killing too (no pun intended). Every serious post reeks of a template that is afraid of rubbing people in the wrong way. What’s scarier, you ask? Our reluctance to acknowledge the existence of a problem.

Every other post on any of our Facebook groups finds a comment war of blame games and belittling that make one cringe. Unpopular opinions are shot down by naysayers, often pushing the OP to pull down the post. Or worse, the moderator/admin plays God and does his will. A not-so-occasional crackdown on comments is also not something that is new – it has existed, and it’s escalating.

STATING THE PROBLEM, NON-RANT STYLE

Disclaimer: The following sections have figments of pure hypothetical construct from the author. Any resemblance to any real life event is purely coincidental.

The unwillingness to listen seems a prevalent problem with the youth of today, and BPHC is unfortunately failing to prove any different.

For instance, a particular pro-show during Pearl need not find a universal set of takers in the college. If somebody has a problem with it, and thus decides to type his or her opinion against it, a comment war full that shuts off the opinion altogether is not the way to go. Instead, we could simply agree to disagree.

Similarly, the mess food does not exactly suit every taste bud, but comments against the messes and the work of the concerned committees need not be taken in sour taste (the mess food is enough to do that). Understand that criticism is about putting forth alternate opinions – not generating negativity that chokes your detractors.

And then there’s the question of hypersensitivity to harmless humour. A mockery of a particular email that doesn’t adhere to a grammar Nazi’s conforms should be taken in its intended vein of humour. Feel free to mock him or her back with similar sarcasm. Or if you don’t want to partake in the laughter, well: don’t. But don’t drag down the others who want to, either. You wouldn’t want to advocate the Mamata Banerjee sense of humour which involves locking up respectable professors for sharing comic strips, would you now?

THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM

While we must accept that being offended by language has become our favourite pastime, there exists another side to the coin. The other extreme of free speech isn’t enticing either – the privilege of our freedom to speak up must not be misused, and a simple inspection when you are uploading sensitive content helps mitigate the disaster that can follow. Almost everything can be put across as a genuine concern as opposed to a petty rant. A sizeable chunk of the posts are inflammatory and/or redundant, which shows a serious lapse of responsibility from the uploaders. The content is not necessarily meant to enrage the junta, but the language speaks otherwise.

If Steam (DoTA 2  and CS:GO players, unite!) has been banned, looking for solace from your college mates after shooting an abusive email to the IPC will not help. Instead, the abuse in the content only jeopardizes the efforts of everyone else and rightfully demands a reality check for the uploader. <Reinsert disclaimer here>

But as a general response, it is a valid expectation that readers will be sensitive to the needs of the one who posts. Being grilled about one’s intent every time or getting attacked over their contribution to campus, is not fair. Nor is it a valid reason to dismiss the ideas put forth. Work to dispel the notion of the ‘offender’ and the ‘offended’.

TO SUM UP

While it is okay to want a little more discretion from OPs on certain occasions, the ruthless deletion of posts or comments represents a far more dangerous trend which could lead to absolutely no neutral location for disposal of thoughts. The consequences are already visible. Most of us are afraid to raise our voices against wrongdoings or support an unpopular opinion: nobody wants the wrath of the unhappy to descend upon them. The very freedom of expression that the groups have signified has halted us from expressing it.

Realize that our Facebook groups allow us to maintain an informal system of checks and balances on the elected, discuss trivialities that can make a minor difference to our frivolous lives and most importantly, neutrally connect us to the other 2,500 odd souls that take pride in their identity as BITSians. All our disagreements can be debated amicably and without negativity – the opinions can be different and that is exactly what makes us civilized supporters of free expression. We must work to maintain the same.

The plea is simple. Free our freedom.

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