May 6, 2021 (5:20 PM)

5 min read

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Have we simply given up on fostering critical thinking in the University by confusing self-regulation with fear?

As Ateneo de Davao University’s Proposed Social Media Use Policy waits for the decision of the University President, what follows will largely determine the course of free speech in a Jesuit institution that, ironically, prides itself in the search for truth.

As of press time, no official decision has been made yet regarding the proposed policy that has been circulating among faculty, alumni, and other concerned stakeholders. But based on the latest draft, the policy purports to encourage “critical, truthful, and honest social media engagements” while penalizing those that harass, disrespect, humiliate, and ridicule, among others. 

In terms of scope, it will cover all members of the University community from students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents, and alumni. It also includes all Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as emails, learning management systems, smartphones, laptops, and so on, as well as social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and the like, even personal blogs and messaging platforms like Messenger and Viber.

As the student publication of AdDU, Atenews is aware of the circumstances which may have led to the social media use policy. From AdDU’s insistence to pursue online learning as early as April 2020 to student-admin conflicts on academic policies and schedules in the succeeding semesters, there were several instances where students took to social media their grievances.

While it is true that some of these bordered on harassment and disrespect to teachers and administrators, as well as the University itself, others were reasonable and pivotal enough that they became the basis for collective action from the students. A case in point is #AdDUStrike in December 2020 which resulted in University President Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ rescinding a memo from the Academic Vice President (READ: #AdDUStrike trends nationwide on Twitter).

This is not to say that we tolerate legally and morally unethical behavior in social media. In fact, Atenews concurs that informed and critical awareness in using this platform is imperative. But to implement a policy that could easily be weaponized to censor free speech in the University is a detestable move altogether. 

Although the policy claims that it will not infringe on freedom of expression, there is reason to be skeptical from our end as students and especially, as the campus press. Broadly defined terms under the prohibited acts included in the policy such as posting ‘inappropriate’, ‘confidential’, and ‘sensitive’ materials raise questions about whose welfare and reputation the University is really protecting at this point. We may ask, “‘inappropriate’, ‘confidential’, and ‘sensitive’ for whom?”

It would be very convenient to twist the narrative then that something posted by a student legitimately criticizing the administration, for example, falls under the said criteria. What will happen to investigative reports and in-depth stories that publicly disclose ‘sensitive’ information about possible anomalies in the University? What will become of opinion pieces with ‘unpopular’ views? And what about the oft-dubbed ‘inappropriate’ satire? 

Alarmingly, the policy does not contain safeguards against possible censorship. Apart from the reassurance that no monitoring will take place, it is silent on possible exemptions, particularly, what counts as ‘critical’, ‘truthful’, and ‘honest’.

All these arguments aside, the idea behind the social media policy is itself counterproductive. Penalizing members of the University community may deter them from doing certain activities, but it may not really teach them the values necessary for responsible social media usage. Creative as they are as ‘digital natives’, students will only look for other ways to express themselves anonymously, creating more problems than solutions.

And if the administration is so concerned about inappropriate and uncritical social media engagements, why pass the burden to the University community when they can address the systemic issues that are leading to these reactions in the first place?

True, media and information literacy may be inadequate in this day and age, thus the call for policies with ‘more teeth’. But imposing punishment is not the answer. The long-term solution would be to improve the system that helps enable critical thinking, such as compensating teachers better, coming up with more consistent and well-planned academic policies, and truly engaging students in social realities instead of feeding their messianic complex of performative humanitarian work.

We urge the AdDU administration to reconsider this policy. Instead of trying to filter ‘bad’ information by imposing penalties, it should utilize this to educate the University community about the shifting form and composition of publics in social media, as well as the formats which mediate and the algorithms which dictate our online experiences. 

The authors of this policy must seriously consider that social media is a different space altogether, with its own unique rules. A punitive approach that they think might work in a face to face setup would prove to be more complicated in social media settings with multiple layers of meaning.

At the very least, they must heed the students’ call for genuine consultation and dialogue before coming to a decision.

It is quite clear that the proposed social media policy, as it stands, seeks less to guide and more to instill fear among members of the University community, especially students, who are at the losing end of the power dynamic. And where punishment becomes the rule to maintain peace, we are called to be vigilant in an academic environment that is disturbingly replicating the framework of a repressive state.



End the silence of the gagged!

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