Op-Ed: When a Berkeley Law debate on free speech got turned into a social media circus
It was a hot Friday afternoon, and by afternoon, the Twitterverse was buzzing with comments about a debate between University of California Berkeley law professor Erwin Chemerinsky and Berkeley College Republicans leader Dave Reichert over the proposed campus free speech zone on campus.
After hours of back-and-forth, Twitter users were taking sides, and both sides were tweeting the debate became an early example of how a controversial issue can be turned into an online media spectacle.
It was like the debates of a presidential year, with the stakes so high that it felt like the political world was trying to make Chemerinsky the next Barack Obama.
Chemerinsky had asked the question that would have pitted his side against Reichert, of a Berkeley law student-led referendum vote that, if it passes, could protect free speech on campus.
Reichert replied with a letter to The Berkeley Barb that laid out the history of political speech on campus in the form of an intellectual exercise.
“We don’t want to be the campus that fights,” Reichert wrote in the letter, “but will fight for the freedom of speech and freedom of thought that makes Berkeley great.”
When Reichert said no to the referendum, the conversation was turned into a free-speech debate, and the online chatter grew even more contentious.
Reichert called the entire debate a “national media circus” in a post that’s now gone viral as thousands of people shared it.
Here’s what happened:
Chemerinsky, the author of the article at the center of the controversy, wrote an article for The Berkeley Barb calling for a “free-speech zone” on campus, to protect free speech on the campus of UC Berkeley. He did not win the argument against Reichert, but he did