Saturday, May 11, 2013

High school off-campus online "beauty" ranking content raises free speech, ethical questions

A “beauty” contest (of sorts) conducted online and “off campus” a Seattle high school (Issaquah) will be seen by some as a test of the limits of free speech.
It’s called “May Madness”, in which students (usually boys) “rank” photos of the high school’s “hottest” female students. 
At the beginning of the film “The Social Network”, a caricature of Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg is shown writing a system to do just that with Harvard co-eds (Movies blog, Oct. 3, 2010). 
School officials say there is nothing they can do about it, since it happens off-campus.
NBC Today has a story by Lauren Ina here
KING5 in Seattle offered this YouTube video:

The television station also offers this story
This does seem to be an example of “social combat” that leads to bullying. It would not be as much of a problem if “contestants” were asked for permission for their photos to be ranked first.
In a chess tournament, you can’t get rated until you actually play, and make a choice to.  (Oh, but there aren’t enough events that aren’t rated by USCF, but that’s another matter for later).
There’s an existential problem with the idea of “ranking” people.  Of course, that what schools do when they give grades (and remember how that used to affect the military draft back in the 1960s?)  Arvin Vohra mentioned the “ranking” issue in his recent book (see Books blog, April 19). 
But what is supposed to happen to those who wind up in “the second division” (to borrow a Major League Baseball term from the 1950s)?  Do they do what others tell them to do?  Is this about power?  It sounds like the roots of authoritarianism.  

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