Striving Towards Change? Abandon Facebook.

Editor’s Note: This op-ed was written by a member of The Herring’s Editorial Board, and edited by staff. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Herring.

By Cille Kaiser

— On Wednesday, November 23rd, a student shared a screenshot on ‘The excellent and diverse people of AUC’, the Facebook group for all AUC students and alumni. The image featured a list of nearby WiFi networks, one of which was named ‘FUCK GAY JEWS’. “This isn’t ok”, the student wrote. “Whoever it is just change it”.

Quickly, a discussion arose in the comments section underneath the post. Some 75 students engaged with it in one way or another: most of them simply did so by replying with an angry or sad emoticon; some took the effort to comment. A student expressing her discontent with the name received 47 likes on her comment. Someone else suggested hunting down the owner of the controversial WiFi account. More students criticized the name. Some joked about it.

In response to the Facebook discussion, AUC’s Debating Society organized an event one week after the WiFi name was exposed to talk about the matter, alongside a separate issue that arose on the Facebook group. Roughly 15 students attended, including myself. I had come to report on the other issue, but soon after the meeting began, one of the students revealed himself as the owner of the WiFi network, which quickly made this the subject of conversation.

However, none of the people who were most vocal about this issue on Facebook were in attendance. What could have been a worthwhile debate on the topic remained an unfruitful exchange of thoughts: none of those present were truly engaged with the controversy. I walked home with half a story in my notebook, and decided to put it on the back burner – the discussion hadn’t actually provided any useful material. Here the contesters of the WiFi name might have been surprised with the chance to confront the person they had criticized online, but instead they limited their participation to the discussion in Facebook’s comment section. End of story.

Except it wasn’t the end of it. Rumor had spread quickly, and only a day later multiple people – including an AUC faculty member – approached me, urging me to reveal the WiFi owner’s name. I had to turn them down, because I had promised the person at hand confidentiality after he had found out during the Discussion Night that I was there to report for The Herring. I understood people’s frustration over not being able to identify this person, but they shouldn’t have needed me for that.

The search took a week and a half. A week and a half too long, if you ask me. If a single person who truly cared about the issue would have attended the Discussion Night, none of this would have been necessary. We live in a community with a humble 800 people, all residing no further than two minutes away from each other. When something matters to us and we believe action needs to be taken, why do we keep confining it to Facebook?

Just to name a few controversies that blew up in the past because people would only join in on the discussion from the comfort of their own homes: of course there was the Lustrum budget, which might not have been a problem in the first place if enough people had showed up to the GA during which it was approved. (Read also our follow-up article here, as well two opinion pieces by guest writers here and here)

Then there was the AUC Girls Facebook page, the closed group for all women at AUC, that was intruded upon by male students who claimed they themselves had the right to be there because they were “also emotionally unstable”. And then there was the case of the AUCompliments Facebook page, designated for students to give compliments to each other. An anonymous suggestion about the nature of the most prevalent compliments lead to an immense online fight about who is allowed to compliment whom, and on what grounds. Unsurprisingly, nothing constructive ever came out of that discussion as well – it may have shed light on a problem, but no active measures were ever taken to resolve it.

Just a lot of pointing fingers and calling names.

See, we have something to be proud of in our community – we are generally reflective and critical, and aspire to effect positive change in our community, but we need to take the discussion off the internet. Nobody ever changed anything by writing an angry Facebook status and leaving it at that. Whatever you type from behind your computer might actually be misinterpreted by another person reading it. Replying with an angry emoticon to a Facebook post is not going to make someone second-guess their deeds.

Finally, the WiFi situation has been resolved — or, at least, the search for those responsible. One of the people behind the name has come forward and apologized to the community — on Facebook, ironically enough — and with the exception of a few angry emoticons in the comment section, the matter seems now a closed case on ‘The excellent and diverse people of AUC’.

Perhaps next time someone wants to start or engage in a discussion, they can do so on a platform more appropriate than Facebook. Maybe embark on the five-minute walk to the Academic Building. Knock on people’s doors. Talk to them.

Your opinion matters. What also matters is that you take agency over what is done with it. That is, if you actually strive towards actual change.

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