Op-Ed: When a Berkeley Law debate on free speech got turned into a social media circus
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As the year draws to a close, we at Reason are reflecting on what’s ahead in 2018, including our favorite stories to read on the web, our biggest disappointments and the top free-speech stories from the year.
Here at the website, we’ve gotten a lot of attention in the past year thanks to our support for those who defend free speech. But sometimes we’re not the only ones who’ve noticed.
Take, for instance, the case of Berkeley College Republicans.
In September, the college’s president, Rob Hogg, asked the school’s Board of Trustees to rescind an invitation that Berkeley College Republicans planned to give a panel on free speech, after UC Regent Nathan Meyer declared that the event was “a vehicle for intolerance.”
But on Oct. 15, the day after UC President Janet Napolitano announced she was canceling the speech, a group of over 30 college students—some wearing UC Berkeley T-shirts—held a demonstration outside the law school protesting Meyer’s rejection and demanded to cancel the event.
The ensuing days, as the situation heated up, the college student protesters were accused of inciting violence and the college president was accused of racism.
And then, on Oct. 28, just hours after the students announced they’d agreed to a compromise with the college administration and after Napolitano had announced she was pulling the invitation, the administration announced that it would no longer press for the cancellation.
The college students, for their part, had held their ground and remained committed to free speech. But there were other forces at play.
Just hours after the College Republicans had accepted their compromise with the college administrators, the College Republicans’ Facebook page was blocked.
After that, the hashtag #FreeSpeechBerkeley became trending on Facebook, with an accompanying story written by Reason’s Dan Calabrese.