Freedom of speech is also the freedom to prove yourself a flaming idiot in public. As someone who's been writing Notes From the Field for a long time, I know this more intimately than most. Now UCLA student Alexandra Wallace knows it as well.
Earlier this week, the third-year poly sci major posted a YouTube video rant against Asian students using their cell phones in one of the campus libraries. Apparently, they were calling to find out about the safety of friends and relatives following the tragic tsunami in Japan, but more important, they were interrupting Wallace while she was cramming for a final.
[ Also on InfoWorld.com: Though this student unmasked herself, Cringely says anonymity will soon be a thing of the past, if Facebook has its way. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]
Here's part of what she said, word for word:
Every like 15 minutes I'll be like deep into my studying with my political science theories and arguments and all that stuff getting it all down like typing away furiously blah blah blah, and then all of a sudden like when I'm about to like reach an epiphany ... and overhear from somewhere, "Ohhh, ching chong ling long ting tong ... Ohhh." Are you freakin' kidding me? In the middle of finals week.
Yes, she did that ching-chong bit in a bad Charlie Chan accent.
The reaction was about what you'd expect. The video went immediately viral. Outrage, calls for the girl's head, death threats, and an untold number of YouTube video responses, dance mixes, and spoofs followed shortly thereafter. Even UCLA Chancellor Gene Block took to YouTube to express his displeasure at Wallace's rant.
Some enterprising capitalist immediately registered the website ohhhchingchonglinglongtingtong.com and a Facebook page, and is using them to sell pro-Asian T shirts, with proceeds going to the Red Cross to aid tsunami victims.
Naturally, somebody managed to find photos of Wallace posing in a bikini. (I suspect they were taken before she started hitting Westwood's frozen yogurt emporia.)
A day after posting that obnoxious video, Wallace wrote an apology that was published in UCLA's Daily Bruin. But it was far too little and way too late. UCLA is considering charging Wallace with violating university rules against harassment and hate speech.
OK, pop quiz time. Is Alexandra Wallace a) stupid, b) a racist, or c) a bubble-headed blonde with more cleavage than common sense? Answer: d) all of the above.
Should she be expelled or punished by the university for her offensive and silly rant? No. Because of that little thing some of us like to call the First Amendment. As UCLA law professor and free speech expert Eugene Volokh has written about Wallace's video, "The speech is clearly constitutionally protected, as well as being moronic."
If this isn't a cautionary tale about what you should or should not post on YouTube, I don't know what is. Remember: Freedom of speech also includes the freedom to keep your damned mouth shut. That's a right that needs to be exercised more often.
The good news? I think Wallace finally had her, like, epiphany.
Should all forms of speech -- even hateful and moronic ones -- be free? Exercise your First Amendment rights below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "UCLA student exercises freedom of speech -- and freedom to be an idiot," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.