Sem 2 wk 12
For as long as De Minimis has existed, it has been associated with outrage. As Jimi Muirhead noted a few weeks back, outrage can be a catalyst for positive change, yet outrage, especially when unleashed in the comments section with the benefit of anonymity can be hurtful. From everything that previous editors have told me, as well as what I have seen in the past two years on the committee as Online Editor and then Editor in Chief, finding the balance between legitimate criticism and ‘objectionable’ content is one that is not easy and one that few editors (including our team this year) can claim to have got right.
This year we published multiple articles, knowing that they would upset faculty members or other students. While causing harm was not the goal of these articles, it would be a necessary consequence of both the articles and the comments it would receive. So, why then did we publish?
Above all, De Minimis is a forum for students. We exist as a voice for students, to shed light on important issues facing the student body, and aim to produce well-written content. Our student focus is reflected in our constitution, which requires us to publish everything we receive, unless it’s defamatory, discriminatory or otherwise unlawful. While our internal standards constrain us primarily by reference to defamation, we are externally held to account to a similar but somewhat more subjective standard by the MLS community, one classed more broadly by staff and students as ‘objectionable’. The policy gap between these standards is the space in which we have operated, especially with respect to more controversial articles.
This gap largely manifests in our editorial position on publishing articles and comments. Both are treated uniformly and constrained by reference to our constitutional requirements. In other words, we publish everything. Part of being a viable outlet for students to publish their content means we need to remain impartial. The 2018 De Minimis team had rather uniform political views, but believed that promotion of these over other voices would damage the paper in the long run. We can’t truly be an outlet for students if we refused to publish articles we didn’t agree with, or that would cause controversy. While I do not believe in unrestrained free speech, I do believe that is better to have students’ views in the open, where they can be challenged and known, rather than simmering beneath the surface. To publish also gives us the opportunity to temper or constrain an article through our editing processes.
When we have refused to publish an article, we are criticised for denying a right of reply or the opportunity to contribute to ongoing debate. Often the work will be published anyway, without the constraints of our editing process. When we do publish an article, we open ourselves up to criticism with regard to our position in allowing most comments (including anonymous ones) to be published on the site. To publish everything is a double-edged sword, and sometimes our editorial team is caught in the middle. Nevertheless, we have had difficulty managing these issues this year, and haven’t always done it as well as we could. But one of the benefits arising from these episodes is that we have developed better processes for dealing with student misconduct and issues that raise the ire of faculty (still in the works).
There are regrets I have from my time at De Minimis - in particular, these relate to the controversial articles that have unleashed demons in the comment section. I regret that we didn’t moderate comments quick enough, and on occasion we weren’t as interventionist as we should have been. I also regret that we haven’t been able to address our ongoing inability to identify commenters, such that we have had issues with impersonation and of course anonymous keyboard warriors. Finally, I regret not drafting processes for dealing with these issues earlier in the year, such that we haven’t ever used them. Yet all things aside, the controversial articles we published had a positive impact that outweighed their negatives. For every objectionable or poorly written article, there have been clear, well-argued responses that stand up to criticism. For every controversial comment, there are many others being complimentary of the writer, or disagreeing respectfully. I am proud of our readers and writers who have thoughtfully participated in the life of De Minimis, and most of all, I am proud of the content that our team has produced. While I do have regrets from my time at De Minimis, I don’t regret publishing any article of the 100+ that we have put out this year.
I am very grateful to the 2018 editorial team for their hard work on this paper and am especially thankful to Janelle Koh for her support throughout the year and suggestions on this article.