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Newsgroups afire over Prop. 209

Netizens react with both joy and outrage to a federal court's decision yesterday to uphold California's initiative against affirmative action.

Netizens are reacting with both jubilance and outrage in online newsgroups to a federal court's decision yesterday to uphold California's anti-affirmative action initiative.

The buzz started yesterday when the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Proposition 209, passed last November by California voters. Proposition 209 amends the state constitution to prohibit "preferential treatment...on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin." The proposition discontinues noncourt-ordered state affirmative action programs in public education, employment, and contracting.

The O.J. Simpson trial verdicts and Oklahoma City bombing were favorite fodder in past newsgroups and chat rooms. The no-holds-barred atmosphere on Usenet means discussions can get intense, and the activity over the closely-watched Proposition 209 ruling is no exception.

Most posters to newsgroups gloated over the ruling, which is expected to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

"This is a great victory. The United States is finally moving beyond quotas and racial preferences to truly color-blind equal opportunity. But it is still just a beginning. We need to continue to press the Congress to end racial quotas and preferences nationwide," one poster said on alt.rec.org.mensa.

Another poster said "Prop. 209 shouldn't have had to come about except some feel it their duty to subjugate others. Affirmative Action (legalized politically correct racism) is slowly going away, maybe we can try some egalitarianism now."

Supporters of affirmative action were also online. "It's bad news. And, unfortunately, although it will spend a while more in the court, it will embolden those poor, discriminated-against white males to put it up for votes in other states," said one.

Another told celebrants "clearly, you don't understand the point of affirmative action, which is to solve a social problem, namely the fact that most minorities are still stuck in the lower working class. You aren't aware of just how much someone's background really does affect their life. Affirmative action is needed to give those unfortunates the real chance to improve their lot."

Unlike newspapers and television, the Net provides a forum for people to react instantly to news. "The Net is fast. You can post an issue and get dozens of responses from all over the world within hours--sometimes within minutes," said San Francisco State professor Arthur Chandler, who teaches a course called "The Internet."

The Net's popularity as a place to debate controversial issues like affirmative action may stem from the fact that the medium detaches users from confrontation. "The Net is pseudonymous," Chandler said. "We don't see folks face to face, but only through their email addresses--pseudonyms. Exchange of information is therefore far more informal and less likely to be inhibited by age, gender, race, credentials, or other differences among the discussion participants."

Companies are beginning to capitalize on this trend. One example: MSNBC today launched a bulletin board dedicated to news.