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E-censorship? Not at UEA

An innocent email about cyber bullying caused a big stir on campus last week, due to beliefs it threatened students’ freedom of speech.

The email, sent to all UEA students on 21 January, was intended to make students aware that if they posted unfriendly comments about another student on social media sites the University would intervene if contacted.

However, due to unfortunate wording, this message was lost in students’ fear that any views they posted about UEA itself would result in legal action against them.

The email read: “Anything you post (however innocently intended) on your own blog, web page or on Facebook or similar sites, may, if it includes, for example, ill-judged views, inaccurate information, or personal remarks directed against others, be seen as potentially defamatory or libellous.

“Any statement you publish may be legally actionable. Even comments which simply contain factual inaccuracies can potentially cause loss or damage to individuals or jeopardise their safety. You may be personally liable for the consequences.”

Josh Bowker of the Save UEA Music campaign tweeted Concrete in response to the email, saying: “The wording is … interesting. No examples, it implies everything you say could be libellous. Considering some of the stuff myself and others have posted since the whole music school debacle, it could get interesting.” Second year Tom Ritchie added: “How can an institution be so petulant? Students not allowed to voice their displeasure at an education we pay for?”

The University have since reassured concerned students that any views they have regarding UEA may be freely posted on social media sites, but that they will not accept the cowardly use by students of sites, such as Facebook, to post malicious and insulting comments about their peers.

The Dean of Students, Annie Grant, said: “Sadly, with the increase in the use of social media and text messaging we have seen an increased incidence of cyber and text bullying in our campus community.  This type of bullying is just as upsetting and undermining as any other kind of bullying, and can have as damaging an effect on the victim’s wellbeing.

“We are committed to doing all we can to ensure that UEA is an environment where students can feel safe to fully engage with their studies, explore ideas, debate issues intelligently, openly and honestly, express views that may be controversial and develop academically and personally without being subject to inappropriate personal attacks.”

Students can rest assured that their freedom of speech is not in jeopardy. However, the message to “think before you post” still stands, and if you don’t have something nice to say about another student then don’t say anything at all.

31/01/2012

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catherinehardy