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You may not agree with people, but sending death threats is never acceptable

By Derek Baker, March 21 2017 —

Someone just said something that I don’t agree with, so I am justified in sending them a message threatening their life, right?


It is important that individuals remain critical of opinions and statements that impede social progress. However, sending people death threats — regardless of whether the content invoking this response is acceptable — is not justified. 

Sending death threats has become easier under the guise of anonymity. In the digital age, death threats somehow become permissible, detaching a personal connection by hiding behind a screen. However, the emotional harm these threats inflict on the receiver on the other side of the screen is very real.

Journalists, academics, politicians and practically anyone who is brave enough to share their ideas publicly can face a storm of threats after publishing a controversial material. But just because you may find the comment unacceptable does not make it acceptable to threaten someone’s life.

For example, after a highly controversial paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics discussing the moral status of embryos, fetuses and newborns was published, its co-authors faced a barrage of death threats from the public. This spurred one co-author, Francesca Minerva, to later write on the effect of threatening messages and its hindrance on academic freedom. The paper concluded by stating that “society will benefit from the lively debate and freedom in academia” and that fear of public backlash is a deterrent from publishing challenging ideas.

Ultimately, these threats hinder discussion towards social progress. The act of threatening the lives of individuals or groups who make claims — even if the claims  are inappropriate — does not actually help in fostering a more progressive society.

We saw a similiar thing happen at the University of Calgary a few weeks ago. After a reprehensible email sent by the U of C Wildrose on Campus (WROC) political club to its members with the subject line “Feminism is Cancer,” critics from across Alberta’s political spectrum were quick to denounce the club and the email.

In a post on the club’s Facebook page, the WROC stated that they would no longer respond to media requests after death threats were received by its members.

The content of the email was deplorable. However, this does not excuse any death threats levied against the WROC’s members — both real and fabricated.

The swift public condemnation of the email’s content was important to draw light on a misogynistic disposition that percolates through some of the party’s base. However, sending death threats to club members does nothing to address the reasons behind why the email was permitted to be sent in the first place.

Students should be responsible consumers of information through academic, political or social discourse and challenge ideas that spread hate and intolerance around campus. However, making personal attacks does not challenge ideas that you find problematic and will still allow them to spread through our community.

Violent language does not stop violent language.

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