Interview: the Broad (a free speech-focused student comment site)

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The Broad is a new student-run comment website based on principles of free speech, whose authors claim that freedom of expression is being censored on campus and in the student media. We interviewed Joseph Kleeman, a co-founder of the website, to find out more.

What was it that motivated you to set up The Broad?

I personally started the Broad to make a positive contribution to the situation on campus, and to provide a positive alternative for students. In Edinburgh we didn’t really have a platform for students to write opinion pieces on the issues they care about. I mean we’ve got the Tab and you guys do too (Lancaster’s branch of the Tab has been defunct for over a year), but it’s not very serious journalism. So the Broad is all about creating that space for students to express the ideas that they care about and to debate them. argument that students want to contribute you know.

The only agenda that the Broad has is to promote free speech and to improve the quality of debate, strengthen ideas. We take content from all sides of the spectrum. As long it’s all backed up. We’d love Lancaster students to be writing and contributing to the debate.

Do you think the student media as a whole has a problem with censorship?

I do. I do more so than the normal media perhaps, the non-student media. Yes I do think the student media has a problem with censorship. But I think that’s sort of a symptom of the situation of campus, as opposed to the cause of it.

So who do you think is responsible for this “situation” on campus?

I think that it’s a loud minority of students who feel particularly entitled to this sort of like artificial, fabricated right to not be offended. Perhaps things have changed recently, due to the fees have gone up. Students in general feel that they are paying £9250 per year, they feel more entitled, think they have a right to not be exposed to opinions. In my politics tutorials people are afraid to share their opinions because of this sort of culture created by a loud minority, millitant students almost.

If you allow ideas to be free and be challenged in the arena of debate, if there genuinely is going to be a right position in this debate – and I believe that there are right positions in certain debates, then that position will win out, as has been shown time and time again.

Your website ranks articles based on how controversial they are – do you think that rewards incendiary rhetoric over reasoned debate?

We don’t rank every article at the moment by how controversial they are. We have a section of most controversial articles because they have caused a bit of a stir. But I think that the reason why it’s important to focus on the controversial articles, in a sense the Broad is all about seeing both sides of the debate. Building stronger ideas from that. By highlighting those controversial articles it is perhaps highlighting crux’s of debate

For us it allows us to manage content, to get students to read those articles more and then respond to them. It’s to show when you first come onto the website that there is a bit of division. Because the problem, well not a problem, a great thing about the Broad is that you can look at the home page and the whole thing would be left wing opinion, and the next week you could look and it could all be right wing.

Advocated of measures such as trigger warnings say that they don’t curtail freedom of speech but merely signpost the content – why does your website attack them?

It’s easy to focus a lot on our contribution to free speech and maybe even looks like we are trying to attack people who are in favour of safe spaces and trigger warnings. But I would stress the Broad is a platform where advocates of trigger warnings can make those opinions on the website.

We have a topic on the Broad called free speech on campus, where say advocates of trigger warnings can write that trigger warnings are no problem for free speech on campus. I would invite anyone at Lancaster University to write on the Broad, disagreeing with us. If the people I called a loud minority want their ideas to be heard, and I want the Broad to be a place where they can express them.

Would you publish the opinions of an unapologetic fascist?

Our policy on whether we would publish an opinion which is perhaps a bit controversial is whether it is well supported and well backed up, and the reason that that’s our policy is because our team don’t believe that you can genuinely make an argument that is based hate on speech.

Would I publish an article that made a very well-justified case for fascism, and expressed that opinion, and didn’t go into any hate speech, didn’t make any claims that weren’t well supported or well argued. Yes I would. In reality if we were to get an article like that it probably wouldn’t make a completely sound argument. But if that was possible I would want to say I would.

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