Note to new readers: Stalkerspace is the ANU Facebook chat room group. It can be found under the “ANU Groups” umbrella.

Ramon Bouckaert addresses why Stalkerspace should allow debate, even when it is offensive:

When talking about the boundaries of acceptable discussion online, we have to be careful when we start throwing around terms like “hate speech”. Hate speech is real and terrible ‒ statements that actively incite harm or discrimination against others should not be tolerated, even in environments where other controversial things are considered fine. There’s a very good reason for this: hate speech crosses a line ‒ the target’s personal safety. At it’s worst, normal online arguments just revolve around debating a point. Sometimes the debate can be heated, and sometimes we can get offended, but essentially all parties are more concerned about being right than about making their opponent cower in fear. By contrast, hate speech is actively about harassment, not offence. We should all be clear on this difference, because it is often too easy to shut down a perfectly legitimate discussion by falsely claiming the opponent is engaging in hate speech.

We’ve seen a lot of this on ANU Stalkerspace recently. Normally a haven for shitposting and memes, the forum has increasingly tackled political issues ‒ and that’s great. It allows us to be exposed to unseen perspectives, and offers us an opportunity to form, question, and defend our worldviews. It’d be a shame to lose that to a political correctness gestapo crying “hate speech” whenever someone presents a right-wing opinion on refugees or religion. Raising a question about how well immigrants from the Arab world can integrate in Australian society is not hate speech. The person raising the question need not hate Arabs to raise it. The intent of the discussion is to debate the issue, not to deliberately incite violence or hatred against Arabs. It ticks none of the boxes of hate speech, yet our immediate reaction is to call it as such, and therefore support being sheltered from debate by the admin team. We should question this response. The only way we can solve society’s problems is by openly discussing them. Refusing to discuss any important issues for fear of offending someone breeds resentment and political divisiveness. Let’s instead dive in and debate the point! Then, when we see actual hate speech ‒ real, nasty, targeted hate speech that encourages us to all march down to Union Court with pitchforks – we can all move together to clamp down on it.

Jessy Wu addresses two arguments used against censorship on public platforms, such as Stalkerspace.

Firstly, there is the argument that these conversations expose bigotry and interrogate problematic opinions. But it is naïve to think that every time the hive mind sinks its socially progressive claws into some unlucky sod, we succeed in debunking another chauvinistic opinion. Anyone who has trawled through a Stalkerspace controversy knows Facebook comment threads are not typically sites of balanced exchange and peer assisted learning. In fact, Facebook is a uniquely problematic platform for several reasons. For example, the number of “likes” a comment receives is seen as determinative of who is “winning” an argument, and therefore, whose opinion is valuable and who is a respected member of the ANU community. This means the people who are most comfortable participating in this exchange are those who already have social capital, those who are self-assured enough to participate in a conversation where their opinions are publicly eviscerated, and those who can bring the most #swag, #banter. This system thereby excludes some of the most vulnerable voices, including those belonging to minorities, and those whose experiences cannot be condensed into succinct substantive points. It is unwise to allow a mob to endorse certain opinions, and reject others. At worst, a tyrannical majority actively alienates minority voices. At best, the conversation is hijacked by aspiring BNOCs (Big Names on Campus), who purport to speak on behalf of those whose experiences they lack access to.

Secondly, there is the argument that there is a difference between political opinion and hate speech, and we must be free to express the former. To this, I contend that it is dangerous to sanction exclusionary rhetoric, so long as it is dressed up as a political opinion. I have heard white Australians complain about students who speak their native languages in public spaces. It is easy to dress this complaint up as a political opinion ‒ to use the language of nationalism and social cohesion. However, it can also be a hurtful and hateful sentiment, which makes immigrants feel less than welcome in shared spaces. In borderline instances like this, I believe it is better for a discerning admin to decide what is acceptable speech, rather than allow an unruly mob, loosely governed by the rules of debate, to adjudicate what does and does not threaten the safety of people they do not know.