After a period of inactivity the Spotted: Glasgow University Library Facebook page has resurfaced causing considerable controversy. The University’s Feminist Societies are campaigning to get it taken down for sexist, demeaning and hurtful posts while the admins cry “freedom of speech” and argue that there’s just as much misandry on the page as misogyny.
I, without a doubt, am on the feminist’s side. I hate the page. And not because I’m oversensitive, or a man hater, or have no sense of humour, or even had something horrible said about me on it. I just feel anything online where people can say whatever they want and remain completely anonymous is going to bring out the worst in people.
I’m not sure what the motivation of the admins were when they set up the page about a year and a half ago, other than following the trend of spotted pages that were being created all over Facebook. Some people seem to think it was so people could send cute messages to people they were too shy to talk to. Others clearly just liked a place to vent their anger at those library users who obviously have no grasp of library etiquette. The posts, however, quickly turned nasty.
Freedom of speech is obviously incredibly important but I don’t think being able to hide behind a computer screen and make snide remarks about people you don’t know should be considered a right. There’s a massive difference between freedom of speech and bullying, which the admins of the page clearly don’t understand. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as recognised under international human rights law does indeed state that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression,” however the “exercise of the rights provided for… carries with it special duties and responsibilities.” One of these responsibilities is the respect of the rights of others. After all, with great power comes great responsibility – right?
A lot of the things said on the page are beyond horrible. I believe that if you’re not prepared to say something to someone’s face you probably shouldn’t be saying it at all. If someone is doing something inappropriate in the library then by all means pull them up on it, but it’s probably going to be solved a lot quicker if you deal with things in person. For example, if their music is playing too loudly through their headphones, chances are they don’t realise and would rather you just told them to their face, instead of posting horrible things about them online. The anonymity allows people to avoid any responsibility for the things they say, so they have no qualms saying anything and everything. One difficulty with saying things about people you don’t know, is you have no idea how your words will affect them. You might think it sounds funny but there could be circumstances, unknown to you, which make the words much more cruel than intended. I saw one post where the author tells recipient that they should lie down in front of a bus. Someone very close to me was killed after being hit by a bus so I found that post particularly upsetting. I‘d like to believe that nobody would ever wish for another human to go kill themselves and that it’s just the lack of consequences that make them think it’s ok, however saying something like that to someone is the sort of thing that could get you kicked out of uni, fired from a job or even get you in trouble with the police.
With the misogyny verse misandry debate, regardless of which happens more or which is more of a problem, I think that no one should be treated like a piece of meat and perhaps we should just stop both.
On the other hand part of me feels that in the spirit of ‘all publicity is good publicity’, the uproar over the page is only spurring it on. My impression of the admins is that they are the sort of people who thrive on making others feel bad and so knowing they have upset people only makes them enjoy it more. In most cases I feel that ignoring things isn’t a solution but in this case I kind of just want to leave them to it. If the admins and the people who send post in really believe this is an acceptable way to act then they are going to get one hell of a comeuppance later in life. Let’s face it, the people writing in to this page and the admins clearly have nothing better to do with their lives and if they want to judge you for petty things or they write something that upsets you, I’d just say fuck them, you’re probably a much better person than they are and you’re probably living a much more fruitful life.
Maybe it will brighten up someone’s day if someone posts something nice about them on one of these pages and it is ok to feel annoyed when someone puts their stuff at a computer and leaves for four hours, but anonymous bullying under the pretext of free speech is never acceptable. If the admins of the page are happy to be more selective with the posts they choose to publish, in order to keep the page light-hearted and avoid any sexism towards any gender, then by all means it could be kept up. Though if they are not prepared to do this, I really feel it should be taken down.
The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of Glasgow University Union