It’s strange being the center of news for once.
If you haven’t heard the story by now, here’s the rundown: For our April Fool’s issue last week, I chose to run a cover which included the phrase “Fuck Cats,” and the administration acted with surprising force to halt its publication.
Everything I could say about the incident itself, as well as the surrounding issues of prior review and prior restraint, has already been said. This past week I’ve received three letters from former editors in chief (see page 4), who have weighed in both on my decision to print the cover and the administration’s request to alter it. They are printed later in this issue.
What’s interesting to me in this particular incident is the internet’s unexpected role as a mediator. And regardless of the situation, I think that’s wonderful.
In April 2009, when Distorter was last pulled from stands, I remember seeing a Facebook group created by students who had found copies before they were pulled to advertise their possession of the issue. A form of networking, it was a place to advertise one’s possession of a copy. However, there was little specific discussion of the content, and I doubt most members were there to share copies. In my experience, most of the actual content spread directly and interpersonally. For example my floor mates, knowing I was on Reporter staff, approached me to borrow my copy.
Last week, however, information spread like wildfire. Roughly six hours after I visited Student Affairs, there was already an in-depth news story on student news site Infinity Quad, and the incident had already begun to receive serious attention by the RIT community both on Twitter and the RIT subreddit. From that lead, the Democrat and Chronicle ran their own story the next day.
In my past editorials, I’ve encouraged readers to find their own voice. In this particular situation, the RIT subreddit in particular flourished as a hub of discussion. I saw plenty of criticism of my decision to run the cover, which I cannot deny — in hindsight, it was a very poor decision. However, somewhat unexpectedly to me at first, I also saw criticism of the administration’s handling of the incident.
The situation mirrors that of the Streissand effect. After famed singer Barbara Streissand attempted to sue a photographer for posting pictures of her house online in 2003, it only led to the pictures’ wider publication. The harder you try to censor the information, the more greatly it spreads. Had Reporter went and printed the cover, it would have undoubtedly garnered harsh criticism. However, I doubt the reaction would have yielded nearly as much press time as it did following its censorship.
I’m not trying to defend my content. As the editor in chief of Reporter and as the magazine’s liason to the RIT community, I must approve everything we send to print. And that’s where I made a fatal mistake. “Fuck Cats” was an indefensible joke.
In this, the internet acted as a sort of check and balance — for the administration, and for us. And when freedom of press is at risk, that’s exactly what we need.