Amy Alkon’s got a post about how some colleges will screen applicants based on information available about them online – tweets, Facebook, etc.
Besides serving as yet more proof that parents really shouldn’t be allowing their children access to social media, I’d like to quote a comment that Amy herself pulls out as “getting the problem”:
In a free society, people should not have to worry that their words will be used against them in a way that will limit their freedom or economic opportunity.
Hmmm. That doesn’t sound quite right, to me, actually. Taken to its logical extreme, such a statement would mean that anyone could say anything – no matter how offensive – and reasonably expect to be treated the same as if they were a model of social decorum. That principle is carte blanche for verbal abusers, basically. If you’re a rude scumbag, I think the rest of society damn well has a right to use your words against you to limit your freedom to get in their faces and engage their right to not employ you.
Nobody likes to talk about the freedom of assembly, because the freedom to assemble peaceably is also the freedom to exclude people you don’t like from your group. The very same amendment that restricts the government from restricting speech also preserves the right of shunning. The Founders were really smart guys. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
The “problem,” such as it is, is that the internet and social media has taken what would otherwise be minor, localized gossip, quickly forgotten, and turned it into a near-permanent, global record. There are individuals who’ve done what amounts to really minor stupid shit, compounded the stupidity by posting it to the internet, and ended up getting pilloried by masses of random strangers after the story goes viral. The punishment of social shaming Turned Up To Eleven via the internet is far in excess of the original faux pas. It goes overboard because “no one raindrop believes it is responsible for the flood.” (And people are really bad at minding their own business.)
So what’s the problem here? Well, in the case of the college admissions issue, it’s a case of sheer, bloody-minded Puritanical intolerance. Colleges and universities have got a real hate on for freedom of speech anyway; it’s not surprising in the least that they’d also like to screen their student body to preemptively get rid of any potential troublemakers who might say anything that would *GASP* rock the boat. That whole “free intellectual discourse” thing hasn’t been true of higher education for decades now, c’moooooon. There is only ONE ideology permissible on the average college campus: leftism.
And as far as other cases go – well, people have the freedom to say what they want to say. Other people have the freedom to shun them as a consequence. There’s this little thing called “tact” – been around for, oh, forever – that involves the art of saying potentially offensive things politely. And in cases where someone’s done something really stupid, I think that many people respond outside the bounds themselves – neither threats of violence nor attempting to get someone fired from their job is an appropriate response to stupidity. Not even if it’s really offensive stupidity. (Firing might be an appropriate penalty for a second bout of extreme stupidity, however.)
Now, if a certain group of people has gone off the deep end, treating otherwise innocuous statements or even small mistakes as license to engage in witch-hunts and personal persecutions in truly stunning displays of inhumane intolerance… well. Perhaps it’s time to turn the tables, and tell the liberals that no, it’s really not acceptable for them to be the self-appointed Morality Police anymore. Especially when they define “tolerance” as “giving affirmation to my friends, and ruining the life of anyone who disagrees with me.” Ironic, isn’t it, that the same people who scream about “McCarthyism” are the very same individuals who have no problem discriminating against anyone who disagrees with them?