Many Internet users are familiar with a classic image of a stick figure sitting at his desk, typing away at his computer. Off-frame, his wife calls him to come to bed, seeing how it’s so late, and he replies, “I can’t. Someone is wrong on the Internet.”
While tongue-in-cheek, the cartoon has served as a reminder that there will always be someone wrong on the Internet, just as someone is always wrong in our waking lives. Sometimes, that person might be considered our own. Consequently, most battles are not worth fighting either on- or offline, and we are not responsible for the stupid things that other people tend to do.
But what about when the antagonizing remark we see online could actually be criminal in nature? Or even potentially criminal? Is the fight worth digging into at that point? Taking the point a bit further: What if a student at an accredited university made degrading, vile, and potentially criminal remarks in regards to a simple missed kick in a sports game? Is the institution then responsible for the remarks made?
In a way, no; and in a way, yes. Without stooping to the level of becoming “Big Brother,” institutions must monitor student activity if such behavior begins to cross borders of human decency and kindness. However, colleges and even workplaces can in no practical way eye every single post, tweet, Reddit thread, newsfeed update, picture, video, Snap, Vine, and so on. Monitoring is possible, but in doses and with reason.
Say a political post on Facebook riles up students and insults are thrown, proverbial punches taken, and the parties come out hurt in the end. The students involved become irritated with one another and generally avoid each other until the dust settles. Does this situation warrant university intervention? I say no, it does not.
Now, say those same students threaten degenerate acts in the coarsest terms possible, not only against one another, but against the parties’ families. That is the moment a university must step in and intervene. The risk of criminal action most certainly qualifies as a situation in need of remedy.
Speaking on the plane of reality, a university cannot possibly monitor every action and conversation between students. However, when a situation is brought to the attention of those in administrative positions, I firmly hold to the fact that intervention is necessary to avoid potentially criminal acts. This is not an invasion of privacy, and neither is it the muting of free speech. It is the natural and common-sense responsibility of people who work, live, eat, learn, and grow together to hold one another accountable for staying human–on- and offline–no matter the cost.