University condemns web anonymity
Following an online post that included the N-word in its title on anonymous posting website CollegeACB, members in the Towson University community took action out of offense and protested the website’s existence. The post included even more potentially offensive remarks in its content.
After several campus leaders and administrators voiced opposition to the post, vice president for student affairs Deb Moriarty sent an email to CollegeACB in an attempt to have the Towson University section removed from their site.
“While your Web page asserts that, ‘We’re trying to make CollegeACB a more positive and productive place to have anonymous conversations,’ your failure to do so in a timely manner is causing untold grief, hurt, anger and conflict at my institution,” Moriarty wrote to CollegeACB.
Moriarty included a list of requests in the email sent on March 31:
The racist, homophobic, sexist, derogatory, biased and otherwise hateful postings you have allowed on your site are despicable. On behalf of Towson University, I ask you to do the following:
1. Cease the operation of a Towson University site on your website.
2. Remove all racist references and messages from the Towson University site.
3. Set clear and firm guidelines on civil discourse for all your postings and enforce them – you have the opportunity and the responsibility.
4. Monitor your postings for racist, homophobic, sexist and otherwise derogatory postings and do not post them.
If you choose to continue to post anonymous messages, then you have the responsibility to ensure that the postings are appropriate for civil discourse.
CollegeACB’s conduct terms state, “You agree not to post, email or otherwise make available content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, or is harmful to minors in any way.”
CollegeACB began in 2008, shortly after the well known “gossip-based” website Juicy Campus went under, citing lack of advertising revenue as its downfall.
The CollegeACB mission statement reads, “’To censor words is to censor ideas, and we surround ourselves with tremendous self-censorship … Why anonymity? Because everyone has something that they’re afraid to say out loud.”
The site includes Towson University in their list of colleges and universities with anonymous message boards.
On the Towson section of the site, posts can be seen regarding a variety of subjects. Posts ranging from best bar destinations to trashiest sorority chapter to least attractive Towson student can be found on the boards.
A representative from CollegeACB responded to Moriarty’s email the same day, placing responsibility for the anonymous posts in the hands of the University.
The CollegeACB representative refused to give their name saying, “We run the site anonymously.” When asked for further comment, the representative referred to their email response to Moriarty.
“Maybe instead of offering students colorful, preachy politically correct bullshit like your Tiger Pledge, or censoring students on CollegeACB, you could actually have students develop a real appreciation of racial tolerance and acceptance by having an honest and frank conversation about race,” the representative of CollegeACB wrote back in an email. “It would be more work and harder work, but it would also lead to more lasting improvement in your school.”
In addition, the College ACB representative defended their right to allow the forum-based site to exist online and said they only provide the service, not determine its content.
“We didn’t encourage these postings on our site. We did give people a space where people could be authentic and honest without repercussions. Sometimes, people are authentically assholes,” the representative said. “We’re sorry that you seemed to have admitted a bunch of assholes into your school.”
Moriarty said she was surprised to see their response to her concerns with the site.
“When I first read ACB’s ‘anonymous’ response to me, I was rather shocked. But upon reflection, I realize that their defensive and accusatory response, which included very negative and inaccurate statements about Towson University and our students, is reflective of the concerns I have about their site,” she said.
SGA vice president Angie Hong said the anonymous postings have been a concern to the SGA, and they have had lengthy discussions about how to solve the issue.
“When the anonymous posting on CollegeACB was brought to SGA’s attention by a concerned student, we immediately began discussions about was being posted that night,” she said. “There was a lot of hateful language, and we sought to resolve that issue.”
Recently, the University launched tufreedomsquare.com, an online version of Freedom Square on campus. The site allows anonymous commenting.
Hong said remaining anonymous could be important in certain aspects.
“Anonymous posting can be used for more constructive and civil purposes, not as a place to hide behind negative and hurtful messages,” she said.
Hong said she hopes that TU students do not use the website and said the CollegeACB staff made it very clear in their email response that they are not open to removing the Towson page from their site.
“I do believe that if they feel so strongly about us Towson students being ‘hateful,’ then it would not make sense for them to have Towson listed on their website,” Hong said. “Hopefully, Towson students will also decide to take a stance by refusing to participate on their site.”
Administrators will continue to have discussions with the Student Government Association and Center for Student Diversity to consider the repercussions of this type of dialogue with TU students, according to Moriarty.
Read CollegeACB’s full response to Moriarty’s email below:
Anonymous community boards can be amazing because they provide speakers with a space to be authentic. We would like CollegeACB to be a more positive and productive place. That means that we should have fewer negative posts and more productive posts. Sometimes, productive and authentic posts are offensive because they bring to light ideas that are unpopular, offensive and ignorant but nonetheless worth discussing.
We don’t remember the offending post in question. We also didn’t admit a bunch of hateful, racist, homophobic mysoginists into ourcollege. We also didn’t choose to go to school with a whole bunch of hateful, racist, homophobic mysoginists. We didn’t choose to work at such a school either, but just between you and me, if we did work at such a school and we didn’t know that there were underlying racial issues and someone brought it to our attention and helped start a serious discussion about racial issues, we almost certainly wouldn’t want them to censor the offensive ideas. We would want it up for public debate.
We suspect that the reason why you are carbon copying 2 students (presumably student leaders who you’ve had extensive meetings with) and the school newspaper on this e-mail is because you do not think that this is just one student lashing out at a racial group. We think that you think that this might be a significant portion of the school.
We didn’t write the posts. We didn’t “allow” these postings to be on our site. We didn’t encourage these postings on our site. We did give people a space where people could be authentic and honest without reprecussions. Sometimes, people are authenticly assholes. We’re sorry that you seemed to have admitted a bunch of assholes into your school. We suggest that rather than talking about how “CollegeACB” did this or that and reaching out to “victims of CollegeACB,” you think about what kind of atmosphere your school fosters where a significant portion of the population may be hateful and racist.
Maybe instead of offering students colorful, preachy politically correct bullshit like your Tiger Pledge or censoring students on CollegeACB, you could actually have students develop a real appreciation of racial tolerance and acceptance by having an honest and frank conversation about race. It would be more work and harder work, but it would also lead to more lasting improvement in your school.
We didn’t create an atmosphere of hate. You created an atmosphere of hate. We just allowed it to be shown in its true colors. Our responsibility is to create a space where students can be themselves. Your responsibility is to teach them how to not be a bunch of pricks. We’re sorry we didn’t do better on the cover up of your failures?
PS: The only schools who have ever considered censoring their students are schools from lower tiers. Faculty and staff from the Ivy League, Caltech, MIT, Duke, Stanford and UChicago would never, ever have sent this embarrasing e-mail to us. We know because we’re in constant discussion with them about the proper role of this site.
PPS: We learned to curse like sailors from dealing with professors at Ivy League-level schools. We also learned how to discuss and disarm racial tensions with more than mere censorship. We didn’t learned a Tiger Pledge, though, so maybe we missed out.