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    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Moral Is Good!
November 29, 2010 - 2:30pm

In today's edition of Inside Higher Education, Steve Kolowich writes about recent legislative and student efforts to address cyberbullying.

In the article, he makes the following comment about the Cornell Student Assembly resolution to boycott "gossip" sites such as "The Cornell student government’s resolution against CollegeACB, meanwhile, is already a legislative success, as student government goes. But whether the resolution will turn out to be anything more than symbolic is another question."

Moral is good! Let me explain why.

First, no one I know seeks a diminishment of existing First Amendment Law. {See Comments to the cyberbulling article mentioned above for more details.}

Second, no one is attempting to diminish personal freedom. If someone wants to look at this site or any other, have at it! No forbidden, just rotten, fruit, in my opinion. Passaci sopra. It's garbage, pass over it.

Third, in light of what no one is trying to do by way of legal or policy constraint, taking an affirmative action in the name of morality is exactly what students intended by bringing forth this resolution. This resolution demonstrates student leadership at its best.

This resolution offers an alternative action to the negative, mean-spirited spiral of sites such as this one that prey on vulnerable people, predominantly underclassmen who are already understandably stressed by the pressures of their first year or two of college. Sure, it is understandable that such negativity builds up as a diversion to the frustration and even anger and aggression in people under a lot of stress and tension, especially in light of the tests of ambition and ability that breed either implied or express forms of competition. Such is exactly the moment that calls for peer leadership. It is the kind of moment when it makes a difference if someone says, "we don't do those kind of things around here" to set a positive and supportive tone and direction for the community. To have that kind of vision, concern and direction is the stuff out of which true leadership is made.

No one I know is suggesting a revision of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that provides immunity to I.S.P.s, including web sites, for defamatory material. The policy behind that provision, to encourage the growth of the Internet, remains a good one and coincides with free speech principles.

But just because it is allowed by law to exist does not mean that individuals or groups can't respond in legal means at their disposal to have their say. That freedom is at the core of the famous notion of a "marketplace of ideas." First Amendment law encourages open and free speech in order test ideas. And a forbearance is sometimes more powerful than affirmative action.

In this case, forbearance serves two goals: it sets that tone; it provides direction for those who might be in need of hope and direction out of a morass of negativity. It also hits a site such as this one where it counts: in the "hit" calculator, where advertisers go to see if it is a worthwhile investment.

A Student Assembly resolution to pass over these kind of sites may rest on morals, but morals are good. When or why wouldn't we want morality that speaks to the good of a caring community to be a central part of our campus spirit anyway? There is power to morality, just ask Martin Luther King or other such world historical leaders who have wielded its power so effectively. Hurray to students who walk in such eminent footsteps indeed!


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