Criticism of articles cannot devolve into bullying

By DIVA PAREKH | October 19, 2017

In the past few weeks, there have been a lot of very controversial articles in The News-Letter. When something in this newspaper is controversial, it’s very easy to tell. The article rapidly moves to the top of our most read and recent comment lists. When it’s shared on Facebook, there are over 20 comments with even more replies. There are Twitter rants where the article is shared and talked about.

Before I go on, let me specify that my opinion on these controversial issues is completely irrelevant. Whether I agree or I disagree with these articles doesn’t matter at all.

Lately, I’ve noticed that the discussion has grown a lot more toxic than it used to be. People tag their friends in comments and proceed to mock and laugh at the writer’s  supposed idiocy. People personally attack the writer. The Twitter rants are increasingly heated. People make fun of the writer on the Facebook meme page, and the insulting doesn’t seem to ever stop. 

Just to clarify: I am in no way trying to say that articles should not be criticized or disagreed with. If you hold a different opinion, you should feel perfectly free to express it, but do it in a healthier way.

You can write a letter to the editor to The News-Letter, as a lot of students have done. Even if you want to continue to use social media as a platform, argue against the idea, not against the person. To those of you who have done that: I appreciate you and I appreciate what you are doing to facilitate constructive criticism and political debate.

In the long term, this culture of insulting and personally attacking people whose views you don’t share changes how conversation takes place at Hopkins.

I talked to a friend yesterday, who wanted to write an article with a strong political stance, but she said she was afraid — afraid of being called names, not afraid of expressing her belief.

Insulting labels come so easily to us. It’s so easy to argue against an idea by using who the person who holds that idea is — their personality, their person — as a weapon.

There has to be a distinction between saying, “person X is of Y race, they couldn’t possibly understand the racial microaggressions community Z faces” and saying “person X needs to shut up” or “person X’s opinion is invalid.”

Even writing this article, I’m using X, Y and Zs instead of giving concrete examples, because I’m afraid. I’m afraid you’ll attack me for some view I hold, I’m afraid you’ll insult me and call me stupid and naïve and tell me my opinion is invalid.

Even when I wrote my article entitled “We need to stop trivializing the word ‘triggered,’” I was afraid of being called a sheltered snowflake. I was afraid of being turned into a “triggered by the word ‘triggered’” meme. I was afraid of being honest.

This fear shouldn’t exist. I shouldn’t be terrified that I’m going to be insulted and personally attacked with anything I write or say.

I know that we have free speech, I know I can’t stop you from completely ignoring everything I’ve said and continuing to do what you’re doing.

But just stop before you make that meme, and think about the person you’re making fun of. Think about the person, independent of their political views and opinions, and think about what you’re doing to them — what you’re doing to our community.

You’re making us afraid, and it’s important, now more than ever, for each and every one of us to be fearless and engage in those conversations, even and especially with people who don’t share our views. Don’t make us afraid to do that.

Diva Parekh is a junior physics major from Mumbai, India. She is the Copy Editor.

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