At Going Global, a panel of speakers from around the world examined the transformation of university culture by a generation of students who have grown up using social media; the concept of safe spaces and the increasing problem of censorship on campus.
Regarding the growth and transformative effect of social media, Wim de Villiers, Vice-Chancellor, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, told the audience that it’s important to be proactive and ‘clued up’ in digital media to try to build bridges between the ‘online and offline world.’
He explained: “We live in different realities – an online one and a physical or offline one. There is very little open discussion in the Socratic sense of the word, with participants searching for answers with a middle ground.” He added it was necessary to bridge this divide and to demonstrate ‘deep listening’ to get to the middle ground.
The audience then heard from Dr Muhammad Ali, Vice-Chancellor of Government College University in Faisalabad, Pakistan, highlighted that educated youth had been indoctrinated into terrorism in Pakistan, and in light of this he said that academic responsibility has become different.
He said: “We have to be very careful in providing direction but at this point it’s not possible to control social media, but we should provide direction to social media use in a positive direction.
“Our major concern is educated online youth who can be very easily taken away from their major responsibilities and indulge in extremist or terrorist acts. We need to develop a counter narrative. Social media is very powerful. We need to reduce negative use of social media.”
Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, highlighted that there is an increasing problem of censorship on university campuses. She referred to some recent high profile examples of ‘disinvitations’ – where students come together to encourage faculties not to invite certain speakers because their views are considered ‘harmful’.
She offered four reasons for this increase in censorship: the rise of identity politics; the notion of offence causing actual harm; financial incentives and social media.
“There is a great deal of debate about who has right to speak about us and on our behalf. Also, if you are paying for something, if you are the consumer, you can turn around to your faculty and say I don’t like this happening on campus, you are empowered because you are paying. Finally, technology has a role in this – social media allows certain groups to form and feel validated. We’ve done little to explain to people why free speech is a value to be cherished and fought for. “