Column: Videotaping speaker unnecessary and borderline unethical

March 12, 2014

Commentary by Lucas Wimmer

Recently, a speaker at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus stirred controversy and garnered national attention, but should this have been an issue?

Freshman Kyle Brooks was the student who recorded the speaker in his Individual and Society class. Although the recording of the speaker was legal under Wisconsin statutes, was it necessary and ethical?

Ethically, videotaping an individual without consent is a little suspect, regardless of the situation. Although Eyon Biddle, the speaker in Brooks’ class, was in a semi-public setting, any time someone is being recorded without his or her knowledge and permission is a gray area.

It is understandable that Brooks wanted a candid shot of what Biddle was presenting to the class, but at the same time, what he did closely borders on unethical.

I can see where Brooks was coming from in recording the video of Biddle, but similar to situations like the Food Lion case from 1992, it can be a risky move. Food Lion was repackaging beef past its expiration date, and a journalist from ABC went undercover to expose this practice. Although the intentions were good, Food Lion eventually lost a lawsuit for fraud, trespass and disloyalty for secretly videotaping employees while working at the Food Lion store.

Obviously there are differences between these two cases, but there are similarities in terms of the ethicality of recording events in secret.

In his interview and a letter to the editor posted on, Brooks said he was concerned that Biddle was making a strong political speech to impressionable minds, but isn’t Brooks making the same type of statement by bringing his recording to light?

I can see both sides of this argument. It’s completely fine to disagree with someone based on politics. It’s the political foundation of our country that people are going to disagree with one another. With that in mind, the point of college is to challenge your line of thinking. College is supposed to train you so when someone says something you don’t agree with, your first reaction isn’t to try exposing and shaming them, but rather to challenge your own beliefs. If you believe your opinion is correct, it should do nothing but strengthen your argument and more deeply entrench your beliefs.

Professor Monique Liston said she brought Biddle in to give his viewpoint on power and politics, and it would appear that’s what he did.

By recording his video and putting it online, Brooks tried to make an example of Biddle, and that’s wrong. If people continue to be publicly shamed or made an example of when they speak their mind, it creates a hesitance to be open and candid about ideas. This stifles the marketplace of ideas concept that people have fought to protect for a long time.

Although the speaker may have been extreme with his comments, it was an opportunity for students to challenge their own ideals and make them stronger. It is unfortunate that isn’t what happened in this case.