GWU Vets Performers’ Social Media to Keep Students “Safe”

GWU Vets Performers’ Social Media to Keep Students “Safe”
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GWU Censored If Anything “Concerning” is Found, So Students Can Feel “Comfortable”

Going at least two steps beyond not inviting speakers who likely say anything controversial, George Washington University [GWU] now vets all potential performers’ social media posts, as well as news stories and interviews, and “artists are disqualified if anything ‘concerning’ is found,” GWU’s student newspaper proudly reported.


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Of particular concern, it says, are so called “misogynistic lyrics,” which is one reason why this new censoring policy now includes participation by the group “Students Against Sexual Assault,” says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who teaches and tries to protect free speech at GWU.

This year the social media posts of some 150 performers were carefully examined, along with news items and interviews, to “make sure all students felt safe attending their events.” However, one popular artist was found to have a single “problematic lyric.”

So, for that reason alone, an extra screening was required by students concerned about rape on campus “to get ‘another set of eyes’ to look at the lyrics and see if they made the artist unfit to perform on campus.”

This new extreme vetting process was necessary, students claim, “to make sure all students felt safe attending their events.” Indeed, going beyond even protecting students from lyrics which might be offensive or upsetting, students want to be sure not to invite even “the type of artists that divide our community.”

Professor Banzhaf, who admits that he is not an expert on currently popular musical groups, nevertheless suggests that there are many popular performers, to whom most students want to listen, who perform pieces which use the “N” word for blacks, the “C” or “B” or “H” word for women, or the “F” word for homosexuals. Thus they would presumably would be barred from performing, despite their popularity.

The same might well occur if the student sleuths discovered that any of the artists had ever used such words in their social media comments, or said anything to make the censors think they might not be fully supportive of all the different groups in “our community.”

Apparently there is no similar concern about lyrics in songs about killing police, sometime identified by the 3-letter “P”word, even though such songs might be especially upsetting to students whose family or circle of friends includes someone in law enforcement, or if a student listener had been saved or even helped by a cop, says Banzhaf.

Banzhaf recalled that college students were outraged in the 1970s when the FCC tried to prevent them from listening on the radio to many of their favorite songs because they allegedly “glorified” the use of illicit drugs – like the infamous “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

Many female students also rebelled against the generally accepted practice at the time that males had to moderate their language when in the presence of females since some 4-letter and similar words were too gross for the “sensitive ears of ladies.”

Indeed, these and other similar forms of censorship give rise to what became known as the “free speech movement.”

But maybe it’s now OK when a small groups of students engages in censorship of anything deemed “controversial” or even just “problematic” so that students can feel completely “safe” when attending public performances, and so that there is nothing in the performance which might “divide the community.”

On the other hand, students who for whatever reason don’t want to hear such words could simply avoid these performances, and instead attend any one or more of hundreds of others on campus which aren’t controversial in any way, suggests Banzhaf.

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John F. Banzhaf is an American public interest lawyer, legal activist and law professor at George Washington University Law School. He is the founder of an antismoking advocacy group, Action on Smoking and Health.
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