May 1, 2017

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Finding Common Ground: A Republican and a Democrat on The Sun’s comment section

Print More

To the Editor:

Last week created a strange moment of unity — a pizza party among several deeply divided groups on campus as we observed Mitch McBride’s ’17 hearing. This was the first opportunity recently for any number of conversations that have not been happening: we have observed Cornell’s campus fracturing along sharper lines this past year. We’d like to address how this has been particularly visible in, and amplified by, trolling and hate speech in the Cornell Daily Sun’s comments section.

Although primarily driven by alt-right ideology, the ad hominem, vituperative and intellectually void rhetoric has not been limited to any one group within the Cornell Daily Sun commentariat. These comments are extreme enough to expose the contradiction within free speech: that speech of this sort can itself have a chilling effect on speech. While we don’t wish to recite a litany of insults, we offer the following examples to capture the scope of this problem. In an article about Dustin Liu winning the election for undergraduate student trustee, an anonymous commenter named “Hideki Tojo Lives!” sneered, “that feeling when you try to look like Imperial Japanese war criminal Hideki Tojo but you don’t have the Testosterone level to pull it off.”  In an article covering Ann Coulter’s inflammatory remarks, “Bob” antagonized conservative commentators with delightful sobriquets like “toilet bowl,” “drooling moron” and “unamerican Shitheel.” Most recently, in an article by Jason Jeong, commenters felt it necessary to accuse a student of being an Asian supremacist, called him “yellow,” and sniped that he contributes to the fact that America has become a cultural “dumping ground.” We fail to find value to these contributions.

National discourse may have sunk equally low, but we need not replicate our surroundings. We can, as the Cornell community, collectively demand a minimum level of sincerity in our interactions. We’re asking our peers to reopen avenues for dialogue and to primarily debate ideas rather than shred individuals. Condemn these racist, sexist, homophobic and other vile insults that we have come to expect.

We ask that The Cornell Daily Sun take certain measures to alleviate the problem. The first and most important request is that the Sun require individual commenters to publish under their authenticated names. We want honest conversations as well as accountability. Cornell students should be willing to own their words.

As a handful of trolls are willing to attach their real names to bile, our second request of The Sun’s staff is that they consider some method of moderating the online comments at their discretion, including on their Facebook posts. This could entail compromises like requiring that a reader click to view abusive comments. Should the staff at The Sun be unwilling to moderate online comments, we ask that they justify to their readers why they choose not to draw a line between earnest discourse and unnecessary and irrelevant ad hominem attacks.

We acknowledge that there are times when it is worth expressing anger, hurt, fear and other very intense personal reactions. We are not asking for politeness, dispassionate reason, mock-neutrality or false civility. We ask instead that the community take this moment to reflect on whether we are even managing open discussion at the moment, and whether we are missing alternatives as we drift towards normalizing this kind of invective in our responses.

Olivia Corn ’19
Anna Waymack, grad