universities, social media, and trigger warning culture


From about 6:25 to about 10:45, Jonathan Haidt makes an interesting observation about what he calls “generation Z” that has never occurred to me. I assume that those reading know enough about current affairs to understand “trigger warning culture” and what’s been happening in the past 5 to 6 years in universities across the Western world, so I won’t elaborate on that. Instead I’d like to explain Haidt’s explanation for it.

He says that this trigger warning culture and the calling out of professors by certain students for saying things that they find offensive started to appear at universities around 2013. He calls these students “generation Z” and speculates that they were born in the mid-90’s. His theory is that this generation grew up surrounded by social media and never new a world outside social media. The tactics they apply in silencing offensive ideas in university are exactly the tactics one would use in social media. You don’t like what someone says, you can block them. If it’s really offensive, you can report them. You can like and you can dislike. His theory is that once this generation entered university, they expected to find the equivalent of the “block” button or the “report” button. Not finding it at first was a sort of “crisis”. And so some pioneering students decided they had to invent it–so they went to administration and started inventing rules and policies.

I thought it was an interesting theory so I’m bringing it up here for discussion.

Off the top of my head, my first thought is there’s a major difference between blocking someone on social media and silencing a professor at university. The block feature on social media sites merely prevents the person’s views from reaching you so you don’t have to read it. It doesn’t actually silence them though. They can keep on posting their offensive remarks all they want. This is not the case when students wish to “block” professors. Their tactic to blocking is to in fact silence the professor. Can’t say the same for “reporting” though. Reporting an offensive post on social media can lead to the person being banned. That pretty much is what can happen to a professor who is reported by a student.

Is social media–with it’s ability to block or report anything you find offensive–responsible for the trigger-warning/safe-space hysteria we find on university campus today?