By Safa Gangat
After Masuma Khan, a Canadian student at Dalhousie University, and the Vice-President of the university’s student union, created a motion to boycott Canada 150 celebrations on campus, her opposition to the celebrations were met with hostility when it moved to Facebook.
Khan received heavy backlash for her post on Facebook leading to disciplinary action by the university, which was later dropped in light of her receiving threatening messages, according to The Globe and Mail.
Considering Khan’s position as a leader representing students on Dalhousie’s campus of multiple races, it implies carrying a significant responsibility. Therefore this calls for creating an inclusive environment for debate in order to ignite controversial conversation in the right manner.
According to Sajeth Pask, president of McLaughlin college at York University: “The role of any leadership means some of the actions that you take won’t please everyone but that shouldn’t necessarily stop you from voicing out your concerns especially when it comes to minority rights.
When it comes to Khan, I share her views but would I have used the similar hashtags as her? Probably not. Of course, I haven’t faced the same microaggression as other people.”
Khan’s story poses the question: Would the backlash regarding her opinion on Canada 150 celebrations have been as substantial if it wasn’t placed on social media?
The potential of hostility among racial groups brought on by debates on social media in Khan’s use of language in her Facebook post is possibly leaving more than necessary space for some students on Dalhousie’s campus to feel faulted in the wake of controversy over Canada 150 celebrations. If some students did not feel discriminated, did they feel that their student union leader should have gone about the issue better when taking it on through social media?
An international York University student, Prachi Kapoor said: “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and has the right to voice them. But considering that she is the head of a student body and a lot of students channel their opinions through her, she should have approached her notions with more diplomacy.”
Although Khan’s intention was focused on Canada 150 itself, conversations and debate in the name of social activism occurring on social media could easily go wrong as the case of the Dalhousie University student.
When asked about whether discussing social justice issues is better face-to-face or via social media, Pask said: “The easy answer is that it should be a bit of both."
"Social media is used as a platform for social activism and it has been very effective in some areas given its vast reach. But face-to-face discussion allows for people to have a better idea of your intentions with the impact being equally significant."
Bottom line is, when it comes to social issues and the representation of a mass of people, one should be careful about the language used. Furthermore, while social media is a good platform for easily grabbing the attention of the target audience, it can also be a good platform for misinterpretation and miscommunication.