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Harrison Butker's speech and OSU's commencement convey valuable lessons


In some ways, Harrison Butker's speech was a victory for OSU. The Handmaid's Tale-style opening speech made Chris Pan sound like Maya Angelou by comparison.

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  • Ohio State University and Benedictine College graduates didn't get what they deserved.
  • Harrison Butker has collected misinformation and is not alone.
  • Social media platforms need to do more to detect fake information on online sites.

There is more than a few lessons to be learned from the recent graduation speech fiascos.

I'll focus on two.

First, some universities clearly need to do a much, much better job of vetting the person who will inspire their newest alumni. Second, misinformation is becoming more harmful every day and more needs to be done to curb it online.

Ohio State University sensed that first lesson.

Few people expect to be taken on an ayahuasca journey after spending more than $50,000 on college, as was the case with social entrepreneur Chris Pan's commencement speech at Ohio State.

I am confident that the female graduates of Benedictine College had a feeling certain way about Harrison Butker's near-assertion of the Kansas City Chiefs that they should put away their degrees, take off their shoes, pull out a litter of babies and go to the kitchen to cook their husband a well-done steak with a side of cheesy mashed potatoes.

Butker replaced Pan as the worst commencement speaker of 2024

In some ways, Butker's speech was a victory for OSU. The Handmaid's Tale-style opening speech made Pan sound like Maya Angelou by comparison.

His divisive nature was not lost on the college's famous nuns.

“One of our concerns was the assertion that being a housewife is a woman's highest calling. We sisters have dedicated our lives to God and God's people, including the many women we have taught and influenced over the past 160 years,” the nuns said in a statement. “These women have made an enormous difference in the world in their roles as wives and mothers and through their God-given gifts in leadership, scholarship and careers.”

But denigration is what has happened to female, LGBTQ+, and Black and brown Benedictine graduates with their diplomas, at a cost of over $141,400.

Nevertheless, Whoopi Goldberg is right: Butker has the right to his opinion without having his livelihood taken away from him. That doesn't mean graduates should have been subjected to his vile rants.

I don't thank my bullies. Taylor Swift can say “Thanks, AIMee” to Kim Kardashian if she wants.

Benedictine officials are to blame for this, just as it is Ohio State's fault for Pan's magic carpet ride with a soundtrack featuring the 4 Non Blondes and Harry Dixon Loes.

At least Chris Pan was entertaining, encouraging, and as uplifting as a person who shouted “OH” and everyone else responded “IO.”

Butker has procured misinformation, and he is not alone

On to the second lesson.

I'm not sure, but based on the nonsense that came out of his mouth, Butker's “facts” seem to be based on the worst memes you've read in weeks.

His misinformation about diversity, equity, and inclusion, for example, clearly stemmed from the worst stereotypes and falsehoods about DEI.

Harrison Butker was right. NFL player is right about motherhood. He is wrong about our choices.

Butker is far from alone in accepting this nonsense. Our entire nation has fallen victim.

Although the Pew Research Center says the vast majority of Americans still find local journalism valuable, trust has declined and misinformation has gained strength.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found in 2017 that fake news, many created by foreign adversaries, was 70% more likely to spread on Twitter than the truth.

Just as universities need to be careful about who is authorized to speak to graduates, social media platforms need to do more to curb fake information on online sites.

The alternative is for people like Butker to spread more lies.

According to the Pew Research Center, 65% of Americans surveyed last year said tech companies should limit misinformation. 55 percent (compared to 39 percent in 2018) support the US government in this regard.

Last year, the University of Southern California found that social media platforms reward people for regularly sharing and resharing misinformation. The most controversial and attention-grabbing content is prioritized regardless of its accuracy.

“Our results show that misinformation is not spread due to a lack of users. It really depends on the structure of the social media sites themselves,” said Wendy Wood, professor emeritus of psychology and economics at USC, in a press release.

Our view: A lie spreads faster than the truth. We must stop the spread of real fake news

Social media doesn't make it easy for people to distinguish the real from the fake while scrolling and to form opinions that can have consequences for the real world.

Case in point: A fake news story purporting to be from Butker spread across the Internet, despite being published on a site that bills itself as the “most fake news on the Internet.” But based on the post alone, you'd never know it was a “joke,” meaning it's not funny.

The post “Harrison Butker on Making Things Clear” states: “Everyone takes what I said out of context. I just said that we should go back to a better time, like the 50s and 60s. When men were men and women.” When the only “me too” movement was one woman saying she was ready for her fourth child and another woman agreeing.

“God… it’s getting worse,” one deceived Facebook user commented on a repost of the post.

Boy, does that even matter.

Amelia Robinson is the opinion and community engagement editor for the Columbus Dispatch.

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