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E-Pluribus | March 7, 2022
A college senior on campus cancel culture, Putin ratchets up the censorship, and are journalism schools teaching journalism?
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Emma Camp: I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.
Today at the New York Times, Emma Camp, a University of Virginia senior who has interned with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, writes about her frustrating experience with free and open debate as a college student. Camp’s essay is worth reading in full and has already generated a fair amount of attention, so we’ve compiled some of the reactions in a separate post (click here).
A friend lowers her voice to lament the ostracization of a student who said something well-meaning but mildly offensive during a student club’s diversity training. Another friend shuts his bedroom door when I mention a lecture defending Thomas Jefferson from contemporary criticism. His roommate might hear us, he explains.
I went to college to learn from my professors and peers. I welcomed an environment that champions intellectual diversity and rigorous disagreement. Instead, my college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity. Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think. Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights protests and written about standing up to racism, I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind.
In the classroom, backlash for unpopular opinions is so commonplace that many students have stopped voicing them, sometimes fearing lower grades if they don’t censor themselves. According to a 2021 survey administered by College Pulse of over 37,000 students at 159 colleges, 80 percent of students self-censor at least some of the time. Forty-eight percent of undergraduate students described themselves as “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with expressing their views on a controversial topic during classroom discussions. At U.Va., 57 percent of those surveyed feel that way.
Read it all.
Jonathan Chew: Putin, Propaganda, and the Politics of Censorship
Though Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not exactly been a paragon of press freedom before now, the war in Ukraine has shown how a penchant for suppressing free expression can easily deteriorate even further as the facts become less and less convenient. At The Dispatch, Jonathan Chew chronicles Putin’s increasingly draconian measures to keep his own people in the dark even as his efforts to fool the rest of the world appear to be largely failing. The West should take note of the governmental impulse to circle the wagons at the expense of the truth, particularly when a crisis comes along.
The obvious absurdity of Russian propaganda—mixed with its blatant refusal to accept Ukrainian sovereignty—has left Western governments and tech companies grappling with an important question: How should we respond?
If the West were to follow Vladimir Putin’s example, the solution would be to simply ban all dissenting viewpoints. In what seemed like a panic censorship surge this week, the Russian government blocked both Facebook and Twitter nationwide, as well as the websites of many Western media outlets, such as Radio Free Europe, Deutsche Welle, and the BBC. This came on the heels of a new law signed by Vladimir Putin denoting the dissemination of all “false information” about the activities of Russian armed forces as a criminal offense—for example, referring to the Ukrainian military offensive as an “invasion” or “attack” as opposed to a “special military operation.” And only days earlier, Russian authorities blocked access to Dozhd TV and Ekho Moskvy, two of the few remaining domestic news outlets that challenged the official narrative from the Russian government about the Ukraine invasion.
Yet it is impossible to see Putin’s decision to create a Russian “splinternet”—one which effectively cuts Russian citizens off from the rest of the online world—as anything but a sign of weakness and desperation. In its statement announcing its ban on Facebook, Roskomnadzor, the communications “watchdog” operated by the Russian government, said that the social network’s decisions to restrict access to many Kremlin news outlets—including Sputnik, RT, and Gazeta.ru—represented violations of federal law. As NPR columnist Shannon Bond wrote on Wednesday, tech companies were always walking a “geopolitical high-wire” as they navigated the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and even before Putin decided to block social media access in Russia, these tech companies were effectively crafting a splinternet of their own—using selective deplatforming in an attempt to placate both Russia and the West simultaneously.
Read the whole thing.
Jonathan Bradley: I Signed Up to Study Journalism. What They Taught Me Was Activism
In a piece at Quillette somewhat reminiscent of Emma Camp’s New York Times essay, Canadian journalism school student Jonathan Bradley writes of his time at Canada’s Ryerson School of Journalism. Rather than simply teaching students how to seek out and report the news, Bradley says that Ryerson encouraged him and his fellow students to actively pursue and promote progressive issues and ideas.
As I learned, the Ryerson School of Journalism (RSJ), from which I graduated last year (and which is now grouped under Ryerson’s “Creative School”), was ahead of the rest of the university when it came to social-justice puritanism. Back in early 2020, my affiliation with school publications came under attack after I wrote a column for a third-party outlet arguing for the disbanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion offices at Canadian universities. I was then banned from writing for the Eyeopener, one of Ryerson’s student newspapers, on the basis that my Christian viewpoint on LGBT issues would make “members of our community, especially queer, trans and non-binary folks … no longer feel safe.”
[ . . . ]
I’d anticipated none of this cancel-culture melodrama five years ago, when I first learned I’d been accepted into RSJ. I remember the moment exactly: 9:40am on Friday, January 20th, 2017, in Room 317 of Cardinal Carter Catholic High School. I was in my politics class, checking email on my cell phone shortly before the class bell rang. The news filled me with pride: At the time, at least, RSJ was considered Canada’s top journalism school. And I anticipated that my years there would be filled with rigorous training in the tradecraft of objective reporting. What I received instead consisted in large part of social-justice programming. This came as a surprise to me. In 2022, the co-option of Canadian legacy media outlets by progressive activists is widely known. But back in early 2017, the phenomenon was less obvious.
My orientation session took place seven months later, on August 29th. A few minutes after the appointed start time, a journalism professor walked to the front of the room, formally welcomed the journalism class of 2021 to Ryerson University, and then launched into a mocking rant about then-US president Donald Trump. As a conservative-minded person, I supported some of Trump’s policies. But the fact that I disagreed with this professor wasn’t what struck me. Rather, it was the fact that our inaugural lecture on the practice of journalism consisted of a one-sided political harangue.
This sort of spectacle was to become a recurring phenomenon. During one Critical Issues in Journalism class in second year, for instance, the professor delivered a free-form monologue about how newsrooms were too white, too male, and too “cis” (i.e., non-trans). Once she’d finished lecturing us about diversity, a fellow conservative student asked if the need for diversity extended to viewpoint diversity. Needless to say, the answer was no.
Read it all here.
As Jonathan Chew’s essay above points out, censorship begets more censorship. A pithy observation from Yascha Mounk:
Via Bari Weiss, an interesting perspective on online battles against injustice:
The battles continue in Florida over classroom speech and the government’s place in trying to regulate it. Via the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:
And finally, if ever there were a reasonable case to be made for book burning, this might be it: