Facebook Pages Cause Free Speech Controversy

A.S. Senate Bill Ignites Debate on Censorship Over ‘UCSB Confessions’ and ‘UCSB Hookups’


The national student rights organization FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has reported on an Associated Students Senate bill calling for UCSB administration to moderate — and potentially shut down — the two popular and sometimes controversial Facebook pages UCSB Confessions and UCSB Hook-Ups.

The pages, which have received a combination of roughly 15,000 likes, captured the attention of A.S. Senate last week when On-Campus Senator Navkiran Kaur authored a bill requesting the student government body to “condemn” the sites. However, the bill not only shames the pages’ content — particularly its inclusion of “hate speech, sexism and racism”— but also asks university administrators to report the pages and “ask that they be taken down immediately.” Tonight, College Republicans and other concerned students will challenge the bill during the A.S. Senate’s public forum.

Since its unveiling, the bill has garnered a considerable amount of criticism from campus community members, with some students claiming it acts as a means of censorship by violating the First Amendment right to free speech.

Referring to the bill as a form of “morally wrong” censorship, the FIRE article advises UCSB administration and the A.S. Senate to “politely decline” the proposal to implement the bill.

In proposing the bill, Kaur — a second-year global studies major and feminist studies minor — said the Facebook pages contain offensive material and UCSB Hook-Ups includes several accounts of sexual assault. Such negative material has the potential to “misrepresent” the UCSB campus, according to Kaur, who said campus administration has a right to control how the ‘UCSB’ name is used.

However, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley said administration holds no such rights, and shutting the pages down would be considered a case of censorship.

Associate Dean of Student Life Katya Armistead echoed Shibley’s assertion and said moderators of the Facebook pages can use the UCSB name as long as they are not officially representing a campus department or entity. Armistead said although she and other faculty have received several complaints regarding the pages and are currently working with affected students, they cannot and will not actively seek to shut down or, in any way, censor the pages.

“We’re not looking to do anything necessarily official,” Armistead said. “We can’t demand that it be taken down. It’s happening on all schools, all campuses. So we recognize that that’s not something within our ability.”

Armistead said, students offended by their content have the right to express their disapproval — even if such condemnation does not include the administration’s legal involvement.

According to Shibley, the UCSB community as a whole should become “better educated” in dealing with issues of free speech, as the A.S. bill constitutes a clear violation of basic freedoms.

“The way to fight speech is with more speech,” Shibley said. “Rather than attempting to silence the people you disagree with, you should fight back with more speech in the marketplace of ideas. Calling for censorship is never the right solution.”

Kaur said she and other students tried challenging the page moderators but were unsuccessful in removing negative material. She said the inclusion of a section called ‘Slut of the Week’ in the UCSB Hook-Ups page introduced an instance “where the line had to be drawn.”

“I did reach out to Hook-Ups and I did talk to them about it. However, they refused to work with me,” Kaur said. “Other students have been reporting things. Students have been trying to report things and it just comes to a point where this is affecting our students and multiple students have felt triggered. They have felt unsafe by things that were posted.”

But the postings, which include narrations of casual sexual encounters as well as the use of drugs and alcohol, are less to blame than common cultural values existent on campus, according to Christopher Babadjanian, president of College Republicans and fourth-year political science major. In fact, Babadjanian said limiting the exposure of these pages may only stifle productive dialogue by ignoring the controversial issues they sometimes present.

“This is not a way to make the worst part of UCSB a lot better,” Babadjanian said. “This is just a way of ignoring the problem and removing it away from the public eye and I don’t think removing it away from the public is a way to eliminate the problem.”

College Republicans contacted FIRE after learning of the A.S. bill condemning UCSB Confessions and UCSB Hook-Ups last week. College Republicans Executive Director Sara Callahan, fourth-year communication and film & media studies major, said UCSB has had past instances of being “selective” in allowing free and open speech. Callahan said the fact that UCSB Confessions and UCSB Hook-Ups present topics found disturbing or offensive to some students presents no viable argument for censorship.

“The point of the First Amendment is to protect speech that is unpopular, or may be not as nice and glossy and glamorized. This exactly the case when the First Amendment should be enforced,” Callahan said.

Co-chair of Take Back the Night Alex Moore, a third-year political science major, said his organization endorsed the bill because the UCSB Hook-Ups page presents several narrations of sexual assault incidents, which can be traumatic for survivors of this abuse.

“We have to also consider the rights of the survivors, and of people who have been affected by date rape and in the case of UCSB Hook-Ups, just blatant rape,” Moore said. “They have a right to their privacy, they have a right to not watch those things bounce around the internet and we have a right to safety and security on this campus.”

For Moore, the bill acts more as a statement against the potentially harmful and violent behavior of some students. While acknowledging the need for First Amendment protection, Moore said he finds it necessary to still recognize the rights of students most affected by page, particularly victims of sexual assault.

“No one deserves to be raped in the first place and then really, no one deserves to be raped and then have their rape story told to their entire university,” Moore said. “We run into this wall where we have these two competing groups of rights and it is my duty, where I currently work, to represent one side of that.”



Photo by Mark Broucher / Daily Nexus
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of February 27th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.