Publishers to Web should be held accountable

Students at the University of Southern California discovered a different side of their football team last week when several white players started a Facebook group called “White Nation.”

The group was created by junior linebacker Clay Matthews in an homage of sorts to an inside joke on the team. A black coach for the football team nicknamed some of the white players “White Nation,” and Matthews started the Facebook group to extend the joke, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This “funny” group’s description reads: “This group is not for the faint of heart. All members are of Caucasion (sic) descent. DISCLAIMER: In no way are the following members (sic) intolerant of others, we are just doing our duty of protecting the Arian (sic) brotherhood.”

Soon after the group’s inception, someone unaffiliated with the team posted a graphic that showed a black baby in handcuffs, with the caption “arrest black babies before they become criminals.”

It is mind-boggling that this “joke” found its way from the football field or locker room to the Internet, where it was immediately exposed. It seems Matthews underestimated the power of the Internet — and the power of words.

All manner of apologies and explanations have surfaced from players in the group and members of the USC football organization.

All of them maintain that the group has no malicious or racist intent — that it was just an innocent inside joke on the team.

But when is it a good idea to post an exclusive inside joke on the Internet for everyone to see?

Since when is it a good idea to post anything remotely offensive anywhere and not be prepared for a potential uproar?

In an increasingly accessible world, people’s thoughts and sentiments are read by thousands — millions, even — every day on the Web. When something gets published to the Internet, the publisher needs to acknowledge responsibility and be held accountable if it offends anyone.

The subject matter of the joke is quite clearly offensive to anyone not “in” on the joke. Matthews should not be surprised that after he made it public, people were going to respond negatively. One student even created a response Facebook group, “Clay Matthews (USC football player) expresses anti-black sentiment.” Matthews should have kept the joke confined to those who would get it.

But really, is this acceptable as a joke at all? The controversy runs deeper than just exposing a nasty inside joke.

The “White Nation” group is more upsetting because it was formed at USC, an institute of higher learning, in multicultural Los Angeles. Residents of this city, especially college students, should not be so insensitive to other cultures and races by throwing around racist references and ideas lightly. It works against the university’s aim to dispel ignorance through education.

These football players are not just athletes, but students of higher learning as well. Dismissing this as a stupid, meaningless joke between athletes is unacceptable — they too should know better.

That is the most disturbing side to this story: Someone (in fact, it seems, many people) found this group funny.

It is sad to see the ones who came up with the joke and perpetuated it attend a prestigious, diverse university.

The above column is a staff editorial from The Daily Bruin of UCLA. It was made available through U-Wire.