UCSB ‘Free & For Sale’: The Public Soapbox

Kamran Yunus/Staff Illustrator

Spencer Wu

If you click on the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Free & For Sale page on Facebook, it looks like your everyday, run of the mill sales forum that specializes in buying, selling and trading goods and services. A little more perusing and you’ll see people advertising their startups and even warning some fellow students about cops handing out tickets. Once you delve into the comment section of these posts, however, you’ll see heated debates and incessant bickering between students.

The group is almost 14,000 strong, spanning students and locals of the Isla Vista community. Although it is a public space and people are free to express their opinions, it should not be a hotbed for contentious discourse. When a bad temper gets the best of someone, it turns this harmless page into something hostile. This deters the everyday user from participating in this service for fear that he or she may receive unwanted feedback.

What does this type of hostility mean for the future of general public discourse? If we can not even get through an innocent trading site without personally attacking a complete stranger, that says a lot about us when behind a computer screen. Although a simple remark takes seconds to type up, the ease of it all comprises the human component involved in traditional communication.

First of all, people do not engage in these arguments face-to-face, which will only continue to be a problem as long as we are plugged into this digital age. Without the actual candid interaction with another human being, context and meaning is lost through the keyboard, so someone can not effectively get his or her point across clearly. We are heading down a dangerous path where people assume another identity while online, which is alarming in that they can be someone they are not. The purpose of the web is to connect people together, not burn down bridges.

Second, administrators in charge of the Facebook page should monitor and moderate these discussions. This hostile online environment may deter the average user since they may receive unwanted feedback, which worsens the entire experience. As for the campus updates and news alerts that are plastered over this page, there are numerous news outlets around campus that can be accessed, often times with direct notifications.

Just because we have something to say and are capable of expressing it articulately does not mean we should release every single thought to the public. Taking a no-holds-barred approach online complicates relations with others in the real world and leaves a poor lasting impression. We should leave the Free & For Sale page for its original and intended purpose.