Greg in ‘LA Times’ on UCLA Student Video Case and the Role of Social Media in Combating Controversial Speech

By on March 28, 2011

Controversy struck the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) this month when student Alexandra Wallace posted a YouTube video in which she complained about the behavior of Asian students in the campus library.

Fortunately, instead of punishing her for her protected expression, which happens too often at our colleges and universities, UCLA ultimately (after some initial hiccoughs) encouraged dialogue instead of discipline. Additionally, the use of social media spurred national discussion about this case, in which the use of video played a prominent role. 

Rick Rojas, writing for the Los Angeles Times, reported Greg’s opinion on how the use of social media has strengthened students’ First Amendment rights.

"Social media is teaching us, habituating us, to respond to speech with more speech," Lukianoff said.

Although there was a push for the universities to discipline or even expel the students behind the controversies, schools are often limited in what they can do. Lukianoff said that however reprehensible a student’s words might be, their speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Greg also explained why having one’s world view criticized (but certainly not punished) is so crucial for intellectual growth, and how social media fuels that process.

Lukianoff said that hurtful or insensitive speech often prods young people, who are developing their worldviews, to reevaluate their convictions. And if a classmate’s ignorance or insensitivity hadn’t gone viral, the conversation never would have started.

"Being offended is what happens when you have your deepest beliefs challenged," he said. "If you go through four years of college without having your beliefs challenged, you should ask for your money back."

Hopefully, future instances of controversial speech will also be combated, not by administrative sanctions, but by the social-media-driven marketplace of ideas. In the meantime, I encourage you to read Rojas’ excellent piece in its entirety.

Schools: University of California, Los Angeles Cases: University of California at Los Angeles: Disciplinary Investigation of Student’s Video