On News, Comment, and Abuse

The Student is a very special society. It provides students at The University of Edinburgh a quality platform to express their ideas. Our doors are open to everyone: all of our editors and writers are volunteers. For each of us, the newspaper is a hobby.

But last week, work at The Student didn’t feel like much of a hobby.

Last Tuesday, News went to print with an article on an Edinburgh nightclub promoter’s ill-conceived, gang violence-themed club night. Comment followed up on the news piece with an op-ed branding the night insensitive and emblematic of white privilege.

We received a great deal of feedback on these articles. Many told us that we should focus our efforts on more important issues; some said that the Bloods and Crips club night didn’t constitute an issue to begin with; and friends of the club promoter stalked, harassed, and threatened our editors via their social media accounts in a sustained campaign of intimidation.

Debate is a fixture of our Comment section. It grants writers with competing opinions a level playing field to air their views, and the reader is left to decide where he or she stands. It is, at its heart, a battle of wits, and our contributors, with their names in the byline, are held accountable for their writing. Often leading to reconciliation of opposing views, debate in Comment is an inherently constructive medium.

Far from constructive are the mean-spirited, menacing, and disturbing messages sent predominantly to our female writers, at times from anonymous social media accounts. These messages are the last resort of cowardly, angry, weak individuals who lack the social capital and moral fortitude to articulate their views in the forum that this publication affords them.

The intent of these messages is plain: to impose a social cost on our contributors for daring to voice their opinions. Our message is equally clear: we will not give in to intimidation, and we will reserve the right to respond.

These responses, themselves, may incur a cost. For illustration, we linked a series of abusive tweets to a recent Edinburgh law graduate, currently employed at a large law firm. We doubt very highly that her employer, which depends so heavily upon its staff’s integrity, would look favourably on the exceedingly poor judgement shown by the employee in question.

At The Student, we firmly believe in a right to free speech. A right to free speech, however, does not imply a right to freedom from the consequences of that speech. This is a lesson that this newspaper has learned from experience time and time again.

As is so often the case in these types of circumstances, we end with a plea to the student body: if you disagree with an article published in the paper, come write for us. The paper will be better for it. All are welcome.

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