Noctiluca Editorial: What ‘sleevegate’ says about us

Noctiluca Editorial Board, Editorial Board

Last Friday, many students eagerly awaited the delivery of their 2015 powderpuff shirts which they had ordered weeks before. This right of upperclassmen passage has long been a tradition at Appleton North, and is looked forward to since Freshman year. This custom has always included a long sleeve T-shirt, considering the cold weather that has usually struck by this time. However, on Saturday students were confronted with some new information; the shirts would be short sleeve this year. A Facebook post made on the junior and senior powderpuff pages alerted students to this mix-up, a mistake that was simply too late to fix. The custom of a long sleeve shirt was over, and students were given a product that they had not expected nor wanted. Yet, the members of the dance team were the ones who suffered the greatest from the mistake.

As soon as the announcement was made, members of the team, who had only just been informed of the shirts themselves, began to receive angry comments regarding the sleeves. The girls, most of whom had no direct connection to the actual ordering of the shirts, began to receive both attacks on their team and on them personally. Comments stating that the cheer team had “small brains” and that “it’s no wonder they get spit on” were posted to the Facebook pages, sometimes even publicly tagging and attacking individuals. People commented saying that they felt “victimized” by the cheer team, and many even went as far as to accuse the team of purposefully swindling them of their money. Eventually parents and faculty were pulled into the discussion; they also received attacks similar to the ones the girls had endured.

Within this entire case, we can begin to see some common themes occurring in relation to our society and our own feelings of entitlement. In a world where nearly half of the population lives on a mere $2.50 a day, how can we sit in the comfort of our homes, demonizing teenage girls through our iPhone 6’s for three dollars worth of sleeves? There is a complete lack of understanding and appreciation demonstrated for just how fortunate we truly are here in Appleton, a place where we have a government that protects us, a school that is reachable for everyone, and the ability to even consider having a silly luxury like powderpuff shirts. In a big picture context, destroying our peers over the loss of 6 inches of fabric truly becomes the definition of a “first world problem.”

When the situation reached its peak, many of the dancers felt like they had lost their ability to defend themselves online. With all the anger being thrown around, they feared that if they put themselves out there they’d only get caught in the storm. This kind of violent Internet hazing was incredibly frightening, and the potential backlash from presenting their side of the story or for anyone else to even stick up for the dance team prevented many from defending themselves and others online. With all the potential that the Internet possess to allow stories to come to light, it also has the ability to silence the quiet majority beneath the shouting of the angry minority, setting it up to become a tool of oppression instead of information. This vindictive edge colors the web in a witch-hunt mentality, where the accused can either accept their sentence or be sent to hang for defending themselves. This idea of guilty until proven innocent creates a dangerous precedent for these social “trials,” creating a world where no one is truly ever safe from verdict.

As American citizens, we all possess the right to freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. This ability, considered to be one of our natural born rights, extends from the real world to that of the virtual. What this means is that there are few legal repercussions, short of hate speech or causing mass panic, for stating our opinions or ideas on the Internet; in a sense, you can practically say whatever you want. However, just because you can say something, does it mean you should? Just because there is no legal backlash, does it mean that there should be no backlash at all, no response from the public or from our own peers? Should we truly be able to say anything we want, and see no effects of it in the world outside the web? In scenarios like the one described here, we see that words in fact do have an effect, and should in turn hold some weight in the world, on or offline. In the society we live in today, everyone is constantly connected 100 percent of the time. This online world, while very real, isn’t right in front of your face, making it seem almost behind a barrier, separate from yourself. This kind of anonymity tends to create a feeling of invincibility, the kind of bravery only hiding behind a screen can provide. This idea sets the stage for the kind of quickly escalating ordeals as was seen at Appleton North this week. This bandwagon mentality provides a screaming crowd of online citizens, yelling foul things under the cover of a clear plastic screen. This mentality, this idea that things said online don’t matter, has to end. The Internet is real, and what is said there has true effects and repercussion in the world around us.

Throughout the debacle, some quiet heroes did arise from the angry noise. Those who stood up for the dancers, who worked to end the barrage, who continue to work to solve the issues created,  and who are resolved to restore support for the team throughout the school. These few, who no doubt represent the views of the majority of the school, sent a message that should serve as a lesson on hiding behind the glow of a screen; what you say on the Internet matters, and you will be held responsible by your peers and by society as a whole. However, why should this noble few be burdened with the task of holding up the quiet majority? At Appleton North alone, there are countless clubs dedicated to the ideas of leadership and breaking from the status quo. Where are the club presidents, the sports team captains, the NHS members, the kids who are supposed to be leading our school at the time we need them most? We must take it upon ourselves, as both leaders and members of our school and our community, to instigate change, and to give a voice back to those who’ve had theirs silenced. While it was unfortunate that members of our school, our own classmates, had to suffer for this lesson to be taught, this will serve as a testament to the dangers of online voices and the importance of using the Internet as a tool of knowledge, not oppression.


*This editorial represents the ideas of the majority of the Noctiluca Editorial Board. Click here to find out more about the editorial board staff*