Sex, Drugs, and Defamation: Anonymous Gossip on Campus

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If you want to see the smiling, multicultural, frisbee-throwing side of college students, look at a university brochure. But if you were curious about their darker side — their gossip, profanity, and racist/sexist/homophobic comments, say — you’d find it all conveniently located at the school’s ACB, or Anonymous Confession Board. Until recently, that is.

The site — founded in 2008 by two college students — was controversial from the very beginning. Anonymity seemed to encourage rampant rudeness; students saw their full names attached to speculations about their sexual preference/habits, or comments about their looks. Some schools blocked the site from their wireless networks; others argued that the boards — as odious as they often were — counted as free speech. Not surprisingly, controversy led to popularity:  by January of this year, the site covered 150 schools and logged more than 20 million monthly page views.

Recently the site was bought out and underwent a name change; it’s now Blipdar, and includes a few features that seem to try to steer posters to chat about less unsavory topics — say, which buildings are good to live in on campus, rather than compiling a list of the school’s biggest sluts.

Will it work? Unclear. A fair number of posts recently up on the Johns Hopkins Blipdar were complaining about how stupid Blipdar is. And a competing anonymous Hopkins-centric site — Hopdirt.com — has sprung up. Odds are, neither site will make you feel particularly encouraged about the state of the contemporary undergraduate:  Bipdar has a post up entitled “Homosexual sex is not beautiful,” while a Hopdirt poster posts something too vulgar/irritating to reprint about a particular sorority. But it’s not all quite so dismal. There are also posts about what kinds of exercise burn calories most efficiently, and which science classes are easiest.

Ultimately, though, all the trashy talk begs quite a few questions:  Should a school try to limit students’ access to anonymous gossip sites? Are today’s students more heartless than those in days of yore, or does technology make everyone more vicious?



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