Vigilante Justice, Internet Style

As an Asian-American student at Duke, I have been asked my opinion about the K-Sig “Asia Prime” party by friends, professors, and even my grandmother from China.

Nevertheless, this is not a post on racism, Duke frat boys, or racist Duke frat boys.  Continue reading “Vigilante Justice, Internet Style”

The Te’o hoax: Why we care so much, and why we really should not

The narrative is so beautiful: Girlfriend of mega-football star died of leukemia, and boyfriend carried his team to an upset in her honor. The football star then went on to become the second most dominant player in college.

Why second? Because that’s what actually happened, and frankly, first will just be a bit too cliché.

As it turns out, Manti Te’o’s girlfriend was not real; in fact, the “girlfriend” might had been a boy. Many people are now “vaguely enraged” (phrase borrowed from Kolsterman in his letters to Gladwell) because they ended up on the receiving end of the “just kidding” story of the year.

As of right now, nobody knows whether Te’o was involved in this not-so-malicious hoax. In fact, I made a meme for the occasion!


(I actually think it is also incredibly stupid for trying to dupe everyone, but the meme works out better this way)

So why do we care so much about this?

Gladwell, in his letters back to Kolsterman, described this sentiment very adequately:

Earlier this fall, I read many stories about how Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein didn’t even kiss his wife until they were both on the marriage altar. The public reaction was pretty much, “That’s strange, but I guess that’s nice.” It was just a little romantic detail that was widely believed, despite its superficial implausibility. Nobody thought that much about it (and — as far as I can tell — it’s completely true). But imagine if this had been proved to be a conscious fabrication. People would suddenly be outraged that Klein had lied about something they’d never previously cared about.

And I full-heartedly agree. I think there is even a bit more as to why many people are angry – because we really believed the story.

We believed the story because we love them. We love it when a basketball star overcomes sickness to hit the game winning shot, we love it when a squirrel rallies a team from behind to win the championship, we love it when an Asian basketball player defies underdog status and racial prejudice, and we love it when a football player leads his team to prominence after the tragic death of his girlfriend.

We also believe it because the media is powerful. It is our only way of finding out the “truth” short of going to South Bend ourselves and searching through Te’o’s internet history (oh wait, the media basically did that for us).

Because we believed in this story, we feel betrayed when we find out that it’s not true. This reminds me of a Barney quote from How I Met Your Mother: “People like being lied to. They just don’t like finding out they’ve been lied to.” How mad will we be if we find out that Michael Jordon wasn’t sick at all that game? Or that the squirrel was released on purpose to boost popularity? Or that Jeremy Lin is…um…not Asian?

It’s pretty crazy how much controversy a college football player can stir up nowadays, but really, why is this a big deal? Te’o is just a college student playing for his school. We shouldn’t even be paying that much attention to his personal life in the first place. Why are we giving SO much publicity to him? So what he was dumb and fell in love with a “girl” through texts and Twitter? Even if he did lie, is it worth broadcasting on national news over and over? Whatever Te’o did or did not do, it is better than Armstrong lying about doping, or Reggie Bush taking illegal benefits, or the Saints’ bounty program, or all the DUI and domestic violence stories we read on ESPN.

There aren’t any direct victims here, in fact, about $3,000 were raised for leukemia research in the girlfriend’s name. While it is not ethical to lie (if Te’o did lie), it certainly isn’t ethical either to construct this righteous image of a college football star and tear it apart in front of a national audience. The one thing we can be sure of is that the media is the winner. If there is a story that the media loves more than “new found strength due to death of a close one,” it is the fall of a hero.

Why is it that young adults have to give up their privacy when they choose to play for a popular sport in college? Or that they are assumed to be either flawless or dirty liars? These would not be issues if we just treat the athletes as who they are: college students playing sports. The Te’o hoax is funny and bizarre, but it really doesn’t mean much. We are mad because we bought into the system and it failed us, and if we zoom out to the bigger picture, that is exactly why being sports fans can be so devastatingly heartbreaking, so shouldn’t we be used to it by now?

Does Free Speech Ride the Bus?

This summer, on my commute to work on the New York City Subway 6-Line, my normal morning nap was interrupted by a fog horn-like voice. After unsuccessfully trying to drown it out with Taylor Swift, I tuned into the speaker’s words.

Unlike the usual subway preacher/ rapper/ drum artist/ con artist with an upbeat message, this man was proclaiming eternal damnation for everyone (in very graphic terms): Asians, Jews, Russians…the list went on and on. I was grateful when an MTA police officer asked the man to step off my train.


Continue reading “Does Free Speech Ride the Bus?”

Google and Internet Freedom Part II (It Could Be Worse)

Yes, Google currently holds power of regulating speech through YouTube.  And yes, Google shapes the way they control speech by using the American ideal of free speech.  Their policy is designed to give Google a very limited approach to regulation.  In fact, one could argue that since they follow other governments’ laws, other nations are actually the checks and balances for this company.  Whether they should have this power is irrelevant, because it already lies in their hands.  What is worrisome is how a government or a company decides to regulate their power of speech.

Recently the video, The Innocence of Muslim was tied to the violence occurring in Libya and other countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, as Grace posted about earlier this week.  YouTube hosted the video, but decided to take down the video in Egypt and Libya even though they had already determined that it did not violate their terms of service.  Why did Google decide to violate its normal ways of regulating YouTube?  They issued a statement saying these were extenuating circumstances.  In this case, the fact that violence was tied specifically to this video shows that Google tried to make the situation better with the options that were available to them.  Other countries, including the U.S., requested that Google remove the video from YouTube, and were denied. Numerous countries that made this request did not have any violence occurring that was tied to the video. Not to mention, Google rarely ever complies with such requests, so any acquiescence would have been unusual. If Google had complied, their role in regulation would increase, which evidently Google wants to prevent.

Other videos exhibiting acts of violence like the video showing the former U.S. Ambassador to Libya moments before his death have also not been taken down.  You may wonder if this maybe classifies as an extenuating instance, but this video has not incited violence nor is it hate speech.  Taking down videos like this could make Google more susceptible to the numerous requests they receive concerning the removal of videos.        While legally Google does have the right to take down any video, whether they use it or not people are similarly free to use Google’s services or not.  I feel that Google has chosen to give the power back to the people as much as possible through their lack of interfering with what is posted on Youtube.  Having the video on YouTube, doesn’t force anyone to watch it.  Google leaves it up to the current laws of a nation and the choices of its people to regulate.

Google’s business and moral interests are in alignment:  they largely do not want to control speech.  They’ve mostly taken a hands-off approach to regulation that coincides with the country the company originated in.  Some incidences occurred where Google played the moral police in subtle ways, like in the case of Ashley Madison website.  Google removed this website which helps to facilitate extramarital affairs, from autocomplete – making it more difficult to find unless you know what you’re looking for—and blocked its ads in the Google Content network.  Google had no right to begin blocking their ads or the website and should have followed their own rules of taking smaller role in regulating speech.  Look at it this way, if Google took a more active stance in regulation everyone would be aware of the beliefs of the people in charge.  If they were homophobic, chances are all of the videos concerning homosexuality would be removed.  If they were religious, anything that violated their beliefs could be removed.  If they hated violence, perhaps the Call of Duty commercials would no longer exist on YouTube.  Wouldn’t you rather they took a hand-off approach to regulation except for extenuating incidences like The Innocence of Muslims video?


Google and Internet Freedom Part I (The Plight of the Modern Day Big Brother)

Google is by no means, “Big Brother,” but it certainly has been making some big calls recently, with regards to its decision to keep the controversial video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” on YouTube.


Despite requests from the government of the United States, Bangladesh, and Russia, Google has maintained the video on its main site, and only blocked it in India and Indonesia, where it violates local law.  To justify its decision, Google asserts that the video does not violate its terms of service or constitute hate speech because it is directed against Islam, not Muslims as a group.

This recent controversy brings to light grave ethical and political implications.

Should Google be the only party to have jurisdiction over YouTube?  What does freedom of speech and press look like in a realm that transcends national, religious, and geopolitical boundaries?

Google’s recent actions are problematic in 3 ways:

  1. In an effort to preserve free speech, Google premises its defense on imposing a blanket principle that other countries and cultures may not subscribe to.  Satire of Islam may not qualify as hate speech in the United States, but it certainly does figure into the definition that many countries, such as Bangladesh, espouse.  (For different standards of hate speech around the world, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_speech). By refusing to take down the video, Google is forcing these countries’ hands in banning YouTube altogether – which is what Bangladesh has done, and what Russia is considering.
  2. By refusing to assume a “Big Brother” role, Google is ironically becoming “Meta-Big Brother.”  Although protests have erupted in more than twenty countries, Google has only temporarily blocked the video in Egypt and Libya.  In response to U.S requests to take the video down in other protest-ridden nations, Google has responded that it will do so if these situations become exigent.  This begs the question, since when did Google become the main arbiter of geopolitics? Given that Google removes videos that violate local copyright law, it should accede to local standards for hate speech as well.  With regard sensitive videos such as “The Innocence of Muslims,” Google can be “hands-off” by allowing governments to make the final call.
  3. Finally, Google needs more restrictions on permissible video content beyond its terms of service and prohibiting hate speech.  Although the “Innocence of Muslims” may not hit close to home for many Americans, the video of the former U.S Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens certainly does.  While it is certainly within the purview of Google’s policies to allow the video of former Ambassador Steven’s brutal treatment to be shown, is it ethical to allow the footage in light of the recent tragedy?

Google needs to recognize that the line between inaction and action is a dubious one.  Although it wants to be as unobtrusive as possible, the plight of the Modern Day Big Brother is that it has no choice but to involve itself in governing the internet realm.  Whether it chooses to keep the video up or to take it down is setting an unmistakable precedent.  Given that Google has already conceded that free speech needs to be reined in under certain circumstances, it should take the first step in further defining its place in the YouTube community.

*Not everyone agrees with my views. In fact, Kristian will be posting a rejoinder on Wednesday. Stay tuned!

Stop “Stop Kony 2012”?

I can’t resist.  I’m going to add my two cents to USA Today, Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, etc. about Kony 2012.

For those of you who haven’t seen the viral (or infamous?) video yet, it’s worth half an hour of your time:

Continue reading “Stop “Stop Kony 2012”?”