Alexandra Wallace, a UCLA student, posted a rant on YouTube complaining about the "rude Asians" she has to deal with who talk on their phone in the library while she is trying to study. The video is just a head shot of Wallace who first complains about all of the Asians in her apartment complex that often have family visiting, and then continues her tirade by criticizing Asians for constantly talking on the phone while she is trying to study in the library (she even goes as far as to mimic an Asian accent).
Since posting her video (on the same day as the Japanese earthquake & tsunami) she’s received an enormous amount of backlash from the community, is facing expulsion from her school, and even sought police protection due to death threats directed at her.
Of course conflict arises in discussions between those who feel offended by her video and those who think it was just a joke that shouldn’t be taken seriously; however her wisdom of posting the rant at all is questioned by everyone. And Wallace isn’t the only one learning the power of the internet; just ask Gilbert Gottfried who was fired from Aflac after he tweeted insensitive comments about the tsunami in Japan.
Ah, the power of free speech. It’s a great privilege to be able to freely express your opinion to others, but just because we can say something, does it mean that we should? And why do we feel the need to do it so publicly? If adults are making the same mistakes as kids, we can’t blame youth as the primary cause of these misguided posts, so just what is it that leads to these foolish mistakes? What is it about our culture that would make someone feel comfortable stereotyping or insulting an entire race of people and then announcing it for the world to see?
My take is that the answer lies in the increased familiarity with the internet. As users become more fluent, more experienced, and more tech-savvy they develop a sense of complacency while using the internet to communicate with others. We become relaxed and well acquainted with sending personal points of views for the masses to receive. People tend to forget that there are very real consequences to their actions online. Computers aren’t people, and the lack of interpersonal context cues to keep us in check can lead to miscommunicating our thoughts to the world.
The lesson here: people need to stay aware that the internet is not their friend, and certainly not their diary. The world can (and will) judge what you say. A complaint behind closed doors isn’t the same as a message sent to society that can be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Whether ill-timed or just plain stupid, there are high costs for social media mishaps today, so stop and think next time before you post that picture, send that tweet, or update that Facebook status; remember that the message you send might be received differently than you intended, and you don’t want to be known as “that racist girl who hates Asians.”