Internet Activity Should Not Be Monitored by A.S. Senate

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Illustration by Natalie Dye

Carmiya Baskin

Associated Students Senators Kian Maalizadeh and Anthony Pimentel wrote “A Resolution Against Cyber Bullying” that passed on Wednesday, April 4. The resolution was proposed in response to incidents of cyberbullying that have appeared on the Free & For Sale Facebook page as well as the UCSB meme page in light of the upcoming A.S. elections.

The resolution states that all students have the right to be free from violence and harassment on the UCSB campus and in Isla Vista. It also reports statistics that suggest the harmful effects cyberbullying has on individuals. The document ends by claiming that A.S. Senate will take measures to discourage cyberbullying and will report any discriminatory behavior to the proper authorities.

Fundamentally, while the resolution has good intentions, the memes and posts that A.S. Senate has deemed ‘cyberbullying’ are unfunny and pathetic at best, but they do not embody cyberbullying. While this distinction does not take away any person’s right to feel hurt by certain posts, the resolution merely denounces cyberbullying yet fails to lay out any specific consequences for those who violate its statements.

When asked why the resolution was written in an interview with The Bottom Line, Pimentel said, “the triggering event of this was the attack on elected student officials … [cyberbullying] has been happening for years but no one has actually done anything about it, so we thought this was a really good first step.”

In the resolution, cyberbullying is defined as “sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.” Similarly, cyberbullying in California is described as “harassing, intimidating, or annoying another person via electronic communications” and is considered a crime under certain circumstances.

California law states that cyberbullying is a misdemeanor; a person convicted of a misdemeanor faces up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000, or both, according to an article published on CriminalDefenseLawyer, a legal- and business-services provider website published by publishing-software company NOLO.

Essentially, this resolution may give A.S. Senate the power to actively attempt to inflict these punishments onto people in the UCSB community based on its loose definition of cyberbullying. However, A.S. Senate lacks the right to monitor content spread through SMS, texting applications, and social media platforms; to do so would be a violation of a person’s freedom of speech and would most likely increase anti-government sentiment. Rather, the material posted on the UCSB meme page and the Free & For Sale page should be regulated by the pages’ administrators as they are the ones in charge of the sites.

The posts circulating the UCSB meme page that triggered the creation of the cyberbullying resolution — which Senators who spoke with The Bottom Line asked the newspaper not to specifically mention — are often unamusing, but they do not constitute cyberbullying. One meme merely mocks A.S. in much the same way individuals ridicule current U.S. politics as senseless and dismal; it refers to A.S. generally and refrains from targeting specific people so it is not displayed with malicious intent.

On the other hand, a status was also posted on the UCSB meme page that directly calls out a member of A.S. Senate for an unpreventable situation. The post itself is funny, yet contains a passive aggressive hashtag that addresses a specific person, creating a negative effect.

In theory, the resolution would promote justice and safety, thereby enhancing the well-being of the UCSB community. Cyberbullying is a common and frequent activity that exists everywhere on the Internet and the resolution may decrease cyberbullying, but it would be at the cost of A.S. Senate invading the privacy of the UCSB community.

Furthermore, the resolution aims to defend the UCSB community as a whole, yet it mainly focuses on A.S. Senators. If it truly concentrates on the entire university, then all of the memes berating Chancellor Yang for failing to cancel finals during the Thomas fires incident would be considered cyberbullying despite the positive effects they had in bringing the student body together during stressful times.

Memes have varied intentions and their meanings often depends on context. According to Merriam-Webster, a meme is “an amusing or interesting item or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.” Many memes contain sarcastic messages, but ones that target specific individuals, like members of A.S. Senate or people in the UCSB community, with the intent of libel should not be encouraged on any platform.

In the end, however, it is up to the individual who posts the meme to use discretion when communicating any messages over the Internet. If a person feels personally attacked by a post, that person has every right to be upset and ask that it be taken down. In an interview with The Bottom Line, Maalizadeh said, “there’s a reaction to these posts and I think it’s time as a community that we stand up against it … The key is empathy.”

Essentially, the resolution reflects the anti-cyberbullying stance A.S. Senate has taken, but it has been created as a short lived project that will be ineffective once election season has passed.