Anyone who has browsed [email protected] quickly learns that anonymity can turn the best of us into jerks. However, it also lets students share opinions they normally wouldn’t. An open dialogue held on Tuesday as part of the ongoing Words and Their Consequences series discussed student opinion about the website, as well as online anonymity, cyber bullying, accountability and the fine line between free speech and hate speech.
Despite what you might think, the conference wasn’t just a bunch of kids going around in a circle complaining about bullying. While this was discussed, vocal participants also showed up in favor of the forum. Supporters viewed the site as a place where people can discuss campus happenings and offer views that would not otherwise be stated.
And this is a valid point. Like several students said, when something happens, you can either wait for someone to write an article about it in a few days or you can head over to [email protected] and jump into a discussion that’s already started.
The anonymity that allows discourse that open, however, can cut both ways, as those with more critical views of the site suggested. While it allows posters to share opinions they wouldn’t ordinarily share were it attached to their identity, it also allows users to bash others without consequence. Many times, these attacks can go too far and do some real damage, students at the discussion said. Other people choose to spread bigotry and stereotypes (Soulja Boy anyone?).
Another type of poster that was viewed as disruptive to an honest dialogue on the site is the troll. Trolls are users who post inflammatory content to incite heated argument or try to horde votes. These students crave the attention of others and often don’t contribute any serious content. The most effective response for these users is to ignore them, according to those at the dialogue.
The bulk of Tuesday’s forum was spent finding ways to help stop such misuse of the site. Currently, the rules of the site prohibit intentionally hateful content, and a report function is built in to let users flag those who break these rules. But, as several pointed out, there aren’t enough moderators to properly monitor the large volume of content on the site, and oftentimes these posts slip through.
Participants in the forum proposed that more moderators be added to the site to help patrol posts and remove the offending content. Since site members can participate in cleaning up offensive content, user participation can also help solve the problem,
Despite differing opinions, students agreed that the site provides a unique medium for dialoguing and doesn’t need to alter its core identity. The consensus at the forum seemed to be that the benefits an open forum like [email protected] provides eclipse how some students choose to abuse it.
Overall, [email protected] enables students to discuss their opinions rapidly and is not going to go anywhere in the short-term.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Words and Their Consequences series.