An interesting controversy is brewing at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) this month. According to student newspaper The Bottom Line, two Facebook pages that publicize social interactions at UCSB—"UCSB Hook-Ups" and "UCSB Confessions"—have rubbed members of the Associated Students Senate the wrong way.
The two Facebook pages have attracted upwards of 5,000 followers, generating comments that members of the Senate say portray "the worst part of UCSB":
"[The pages] affect the campus climate even though it’s not directly on campus," said [On-Campus Senator Navkiran] Kaur. "They affect students. There have been racist comments, there have been hateful comments, and there are just so many’isms’ on both pages that I’ve heard numerous complaints. They are hurtful; they have been affecting students negatively, and with UCSB to be attached to it, it affects the climate of this campus—it affects our constituents directly."
Now, if this were the end of the story, there would be no concern from a free speech standpoint. Student government representatives—indeed, all students—have a right to criticize speech they find offensive with speech of their own. But Kaur and his student government colleagues didn’t simply add to the dialogue. Instead, on February 13, the Senate voted to pass "A Resolution Condemning Social Network Pages That Misrepresent the University."
The resolution states the following:
"Senate directs Associated Students staff and UCSB administration to report the aforementioned pages through Facebook and ask that they be taken down immediately on the grounds that they perpetuate hate speech, racism, sexism, and create a negative image of this campus."
The resolution thus does more than simply condemn the speech it finds offensive; it calls on the Senate staff and university administrators to attempt to influence Facebook to censor the pages. Censorship is not just morally wrong; at a public university like UCSB, it is unconstitutional. And no, merely using the letters "UCSB" in the Facebook pages’ titles does not give the university grounds to regulate the content of those pages.
The Associated Students Senate staff and UCSB administration should politely decline the Senate’s unconstitutional directive and instead encourage the student body to engage in a productive dialogue about the controversial aspects of the Facebook pages. And, if the resolution is followed, we hope Facebook will not allow itself to become an agent of censorship and instead choose to ignore this folly. FIRE will be watching.