Tag Archives: freedom of speech

Bunch of Bridge Jumpers — The Dumbing Down of American Discourse

As a teacher of mass media and journalism, my classroom is filled with various magazines, ranging from Popular Science and Mental Floss to Upfront and Popular Photography. There is one magazine that will no longer be featured in my room. Newsweek has been banned.

In what can only be surmised as an effort to appear edgy, relevant or modern, Newsweek’s editorial board under the direction of Tina Brown allows the gratuitous use of profanity, with a great emphasis placed on the utilization of the “f word.” It is a sad day when a national newsmagazine has to be banned from the classroom of a fierce advocate of free speech, but I teach 12 to 14-year-olds, and free speech takes a backseat to their needs.

I am not going to be a hypocrite and say that I have never uttered a swear word. I have stubbed my toe. I have been cut off in traffic. Just like most people, profane words have escaped my mouth during incidents such as these. If your leg gets blown off by a landmine, a lot of cussing is expected.

My concern is that we are on a downward spiral, losing the ability to debate challenging topics, interact and simply communicate in an intelligent, meaningful way. The use of foul language in a national newsmagazine is just one more symptom of the “dumbing-down disease” plaguing America. While it takes time, effort and respect to build a sound argument for or against something, it is so much easier to just result to profanity or insults. Too often, we choose the latter.

A case in point is the recent hubbub over Emma Sullivan’s infamous tweet about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. The high school senior posted that she told Brownback in person that he sucks (a blatant lie) and she also said “he blows a lot.” When asked by her school principal to apologize, all these alleged “free-speech advocates” rallied to Sullivan’s defense, claiming she had no reason to apologize because she was just exercising her First Amendment rights.

The problem is we take the First Amendment too far in justifying all our inanity. It guarantees freedom of speech, even the freedom of “stupid speech,” but that does not make it right. People also have the freedom to call you to account for what you say.

I teach my students that if they are going to come at me with a complaint, they better have reasons to justify the complaint and a plan of action to solve the problem. This leads to quality discussion and, if warranted, needed change. Just saying something is “stupid” does not cut it. Telling the governor he “sucks” does not cut it. You can disagree with him all you want, but criticism should be constructive. Why do you disagree and what do you propose to change? These are the questions we should be asking.

Really, though, my problem is not with Sullivan, but with the adults who went to the school board demanding answers. As I watched the news, I could not help but cringe when some woman got up and said “she (Sullivan) was just talking the way young people do today.” This is the crux of the problem, the reason we are in this dumbing-down spiral. Instead of trying to raise people up, instead of trying to educate, refine and enlighten people, we are busy making excuses for their bad behavior and choices.

My parents always said to me, “If everyone is jumping off a bridge, are you going to jump off too?” To the detriment of our society, there are an awful lot of bridge jumpers.


Too Social for a Social Network?

facebook morphs into faceblock for many

facebook morphs into faceblock for many -- Graphic by VP

In June, I was a neophyte to the popular site, facebook. Within a week, I was a facebook junkie. By the next week — as an eight-day block on posting replies began — I rapidly became jaded as I discovered I was too social for this social network.

I was not going to write about my facebook experience on here. I have stated my case time and again at facebook itself, and have contacted local media outlets (the Kansas City NBC affiliate is working on the story). Then Donna Harley, a fellow castaway on Blocked Island (1), sent me a link to an article and it got my blood boiling again.

In the July 6 article, “Andreessen: Facebook revenue to top $500 million in ’09,” Caroline McCarthy quotes the site’s founder as saying that while revenue will be above $500 million this year, he believes it could have been over $1 billion by now through more aggressive advertising sales (2). Within five years, Andreessen thinks the company will be a behemoth, earning well into the billions annually.

These are big numbers being tossed about. What is being lost amid all those dollar signs are the customers. What is being drowned out by the ring of the register is regular people just asking for help. What is being forgotten in the insatiable quest for more money is the reason for facebook’s existence in the first place — to serve as a forum for people to interact socially.

I comment frequently on the posts of my friends. If I think of something witty to say or to start a dialogue as I read through status updates, I type it. Because of that, I was blocked for allegedly “abusing” the system, without a warning of any kind. Just last week, I typed four replies and posted one birthday wish on a wall, and was given a warning for moving too fast and potentially being an “annoyance” to people.

I am not alone. I have found many users in the troubleshooting and help sections of facebook who are experiencing a similar problem. If you Google the query, “Facebook blocks and disables accounts,” you will receive more than 661,000 results. This is a large problem that has been hidden from, or avoided by, the mainstream media for too long.

I really believe my First Amendment rights are being violated. I know this is a private company, but it is meant to be a public forum. They have taken away my voice. They say they don’t want me to be an “annoyance” to people. Who are they to say that? If I am annoying people, they can remove me as their friend. That seems pretty simple to me.

As you can probably tell, I remain fired up about this. But, I am not just continuing the fight because of what has happened to me. I am truly upset that it still continues to be a problem for others.

I am upset for “Madi,” a former student of mine who just recently lost her mother. Naturally, she has had a great deal to say about this. Facebook thought otherwise and blocked her.

I am upset for “Jeanie,” my new British friend who lost a child last year after a heart transplant and now runs a support group using facebook. Facebook’s arbitrary system blocked her.

I am upset for Miles, my new Texas friend who is a youth pastor and utilizes facebook to keep in touch with the teenagers in his group. He was blocked.

I am upset for Donna, who just wants to share her love of Christ with friends from throughout the world. She was blocked.

I am upset for Nancy, who was “blocked for most of June for posting ‘too much,’ ‘too often,’ innocuous comments to friends and family” and “missed commenting on cousin’s birth of baby.” She “felt all alone, isolated, singled out for being social on a social network!”

I am upset for Debbie who was blocked for 15 days from May into June. In July, she also received warnings, which like me, she did not receive the first time.

“It seems almost impossible that one of the world’s largest social media networks can’t be bothered to tweak their system, their site and their rules,” Debbie said. “Would it really hurt to have a CUSTOMER SERVICE department?”

It seems facebook purposely makes it difficult to contact them. You can only do so in roundabout ways. They seldom respond.

Many people still do not get it when I tell them about what has happened to me and so many others. For them, I offer this closing analogy:

Imagine you are trying to make a phone call using AT&T and instead you get a message saying you have been using too many words to talk, and therefore, you are being blocked from speaking anymore. You will, however, be able to hear others and can leave voice-mail messages. The only thing you cannot do is actually communicate directly with others.

That is not a big deal, is it?  That would in no way upset you, would it? You would not feel like your rights were being violated, would you? You would in no way be offended if the message also said you may be an “annoyance” to people, right?

If you have stories to share about problems with facebook, feel free to share them here or at Blocked Island (1 — below). Thank you and have a wonderful day.

(1) http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=104131789520&ref=nf.#/group.php?gid=104131789520

(2) http://news.cnet.com/8301-13577_3-10280207-36.html