It’s Not A Crime To Be An Asshole




The following is a comment recently posted on the University of the West of England’s “Spotted!” page:

 “just saw the female equivalent to stephen hawkings [sic] roll around level 3 library, did anyone else cry inside laughing to themselves?”

So, the “UWE: Spotted!” page is a pretty horrible place, and I don’t think anyone with a full set of chromosomes is arguing any different.

“Spotted” pages started as a way for the awkward and geeky to attempt to flirt with each other anonymously in university libraries. From such lofty beginnings, they somehow lost their minimal dignity and become a playground for racists and the sort of people who, as above, sit in a library but don’t know the name of the author of “A Brief History Of Time,” and probably can’t fathom any way to look it up.

“Spotted!” pages are now broadly used to make anonymous, unpleasant comments about people who don‘t know they’re being watched, kind of the way the rest of the world uses Youtube.

The people commenting appear to be a parade of “look at me” tosspots ridiculing the unfortunate. The general tone is often racist, embittered, and deeply undersexed, like all the 12-year olds on X-Box live decided to try hitting on women. Except not as funny as that sounds and almost certainly with smaller penises involved.

In the world of “Spotted,” posts are habitually made about the appearance/race/gender/sexuality/able-bodied-ness or weight of other students, so everyone can have a giggle if someone is noticed who – hilariously – might happen to be gay or in a wheelchair.

Society hasn’t seen this many twats telling others what they can see since they took “Catchphrase” off the air.

Understandably, there have been calls to have this page banned.

UWE recently joined the list of universities with an anagram-tastic “Stopped!” page, trying to get the “Spotted!” page banned or taken down because of its inherent unpleasantness.

Sadly, these attempts are ignoring a fairly fundamental lesson that universities apparently don’t teach people anymore.

Namely, that it’s really important that we keep the human cesspool of “Spotted!” exactly the way it is.

Not so that future anthropologists will have a wealth of evidence for a paper entitled “Cunts of the Early 2010s,” or so that our already diluted university system can finally prove it’s chock-full of people whose parents were cousins.

It’s important to keep the page up and running because nobody should ever have the right to decide what other people can and can’t say in a public forum, no matter how offensive.

The idea that a group should be silenced because a majority of people don’t like what they say is both dangerous and wrong.

The posters of a lot of the stuff on “Spotted!” deserve derision, and loathing, and probably a good solid beating by their moral superiors. But as soon as we forcibly silence them, we automatically lose the right to consider ourselves to be their superiors.

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Particularly worrying are the Student Feminist groups who are calling for an end to the page because of its often overt sexism.

There’s nothing big or clever about sexism, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

But strong, opinionated women should understand why it’s never a good idea to silence a minority view, even when it offends the larger part of society. Had we followed this logic and censored people that the masses didn’t agree with, women would not be allowed a vote or even an opinion in the first place.

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If university “Spotted!” pages are closed because they’re offensive, then by necessary extension we would have to close feminist pages, because they offend hard-line Muslims. We would have to close gay rights pages because devout Christians don’t like what they have to say, and we’d have to stop vaccination campaigns because some people object to vaccines.

Eventually, we’d end up burning the Torah in the streets because Neo-Nazis aren‘t fans of it.

The right to free speech is sacred, and it’s time people realised that freedom is a two-way street. No person, race or group should ever have the right to be bulletproof. Nobody has the right not to be offended.

The closing of one unpleasant page simply because the majority don’t agree with it is the start of a slippery slope, and however well-meaning they may be, the people calling for its closure are guilty of the kind of back-door fascism that leads to horrendous things. Their wrongheaded crusade is antithetical to their stated beliefs; a campaign in the name of tolerance should never begin with censorship.

Nobody is saying we should condone the awful comments on the “Spotted” pages. Nobody has to agree with them, or think they’re funny, or cool, or anything other than sad attempts at humour by the lonely and micro-penised.

As Voltaire said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

In slightly more modern parlance, the people posting on “Spotted!” are wankers. But being a wanker isn’t a crime. If it was, we’d all be behind bars, and Chris Moyles would have walked the green mile with Piers Morgan many a long year ago. We don’t have to listen to wankers. But we shouldn’t be allowed to stifle them, either.

We should be proud to live in a society that tolerates even the kind of shit-heads seen on the “Spotted!” page. Because it means there’s a place for all of us.

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