Friday, 24 August 2007

Facebook, puppies, and freedom of speech

I had a comment yesterday on my 'Facebook no more' post, from a person claiming to have been the creator of a Facebook group called 'Stop Dalhousie University from murdering dogs and puppies'.

The group was set up in protest at alleged animal testing taking place at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and had apparently attracted several thousand members before Facebook took it down.

Briana, in his/her comment, suggested that the fact that Facebook had taken down the group was a compromise of his/her right to freedom of speech.

I followed this up, to discover that the university had issued a statement denying that it carries out tests on dogs and puppies. What interested me more, though, was that the statement also said that the university had initially tolerated the Facebook group, and even joined in the discussion on the group's 'wall' to address the accusations and point out the factual inaccuracies.

The university says it only complained to Facebook after the group's moderators removed the discussion wall, thus denying the university its right to reply to the accusations:

"The tipping point, from our perspective, was when the group's creator removed the discussion wall," said Jim Vibert, Assistant Vice-President of Communications and Marketing. "Originally, there was energetic discussion taking place in the group, with several Dalhousie students questioning the accusations. Given the open discussion, we had no problem with the group continuing at that point.

"But when the group's creator took down the discussion wall after people were criticizing the inaccuracies, the content that remained was just flat-out wrong, and that's something that our university simply could not tolerate."

I see that the story has now started to gain some coverage in the Canadian press. But while spokespeople from the university have been widely quoted in the articles I've seen, I see no representation so far from Briana or any of the group's other officers. The Montreal Gazette says that 'Amy Scott', the group's founder, and who may or may not be my commenter Briana, 'could not be reached for comment'.

My message to Briana (if Briana is indeed Amy) is: if you truly want to exercise your right to freedom of speech, don't comment anonymously in the back of a blog that hardly anyone reads - take those press calls and put your side of the story across!


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