To the Editor:
I have a confession. I’m on the Williams Students Online (WSO) discussion board way too much for my own good – and if you already knew this, you’re probably on WSO too much as well. It’s hard to stay away when so many controversial topics are raised by students every day. However, the loss of the face-to-face aspect of debate can lead to the loss of our sensitivity to others who may have different opinions. Exploring the threads on WSO makes us all grapple with the question: How do we balance our free expression without compromising the open-mindedness towards others that we have worked hard to procure during Claiming Williams?
First, the necessity to define your name and contact information in order to post helps the students be mindful of their words before making them public. Furthermore, the information you post can be read by anyone who has access to WSO. Controversial conversations on WSO are linked out to other Web sites all the time, raising discussions points there as well. While WSO discussions cannot show up on Google searches, the discussions are hardly confined to the privacy of the Purple Bubble.
These measures create a need for self-censorship – but are they necessary? Some may say so. There are no rules to the WSO discussion threads, technically, but the public nature of the forum makes it hard for students to post just anything without thinking about their words.
On one hand, it is good that we are asked to be accountable for our words, so that we take into account a degree of respect for fellow students who may oppose one’s posts, or even feel unsafe from reading those posts. Because of this, the probability of malicious gossip or very offensive words being posted on WSO is significantly smaller. WSO discussions are a good place to share information and build a sense of community as different sides present their views.
On the other hand, there always seems to be a couple of students rooting for the unpopular side of a thread against many whose words and tone seem to ask for silence and acceptance of the popular opinion rather than fostering genuine discussion. The possibility of one misinformed or unpopular idea being on the record, tied to your name and reputation, can discourage fostering different points of view for these discussions.
I’m still not sure about how to approach the issue of censorship on WSO. Both sides have, as most issues do, valid points that I can relate to. Whichever side of the fence you happen to land on, I hope that you would not be hesitant to join me on the discussion boards for a meaningful and constructive conversation.