Thursday, January 31, 2013

The privilege of anonymity

When Bored@Baker returned in September after a summer-long hiatus, the site’s sole owner and administrator, “Jae Daemon,” welcomed us back as “Friends and Family-

“This is a magical place. While it has the potential for ugliness in extreme forms, it also has the potential for extreme love, kindness and support. With that said, I have a simple ask. Find the kindness in your heart to support the community as you would your own family. We are all in this together and we should love and support one another. Think about this when decide what words you chose to use.” 

This doesn’t sound like the b@b you hear about, does it?

 It seems that b@b is only ever invoked because of the extreme cruelty for which some members of our community choose to use it. It is cited as a haven of racism (“Gil: Shared Responsibility,” Jan. 23), sexism (“Feiger: Taking Back Dartmouth,” April 18, 2012), and the counter to productive campus dialogue (“Dean Johnson addresses campus inquiries,” May 11, 2012).

Big Green Micro-Aggressions, a new Tumblr for the exposure of bigotry and aggression at Dartmouth, proposes shutting down b@b as the number one goal toward “a more compassionate, inclusive Dartmouth College.”

Shutting down b@b would be counterproductive to this end. b@b itself is as neutral as a whiteboard, but the anonymity of b@b encourages us to discuss issues that otherwise we would not be willing to discuss, to ask questions that otherwise we would not ask, and to experiment with different ways of thinking. Race, gender, and all those aspects of identity we use to define ourselves and others can act as barriers to open and honest dialogue or, sometimes, any dialogue at all. By obscuring all but those aspects of identity we choose to make known, anonymity makes unlikely conversations possible.

Unfortunately, there are those who abuse the service. The site’s Terms of Service explicitly forbid content that is “unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, libelous, invasive of another's privacy, or is harmful to minors in any way,” “that harasses, degrades, intimidates or is hateful toward an individual or group of individuals on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, or disability,” or “that includes personal or identifying information about another person without that person's explicit consent,” among many other things.

Abuse is a problem that Jae and many members of the community take very seriously. In May, Jae announced the development of a new Moderator System to allow users to remove harmful content “with compassion and humanity instead of an algorithm.” Community members help clean up the forum by reporting content and Moderators, chosen by Jae, vote to remove content that is in violation of the terms of service. Because five moderator votes are needed to remove a post, and moderators are students and young alumni, content removal can be slow. All reported posts are reviewed by the moderators, though.

Goal three of Big Green Micro-Aggressions is “To bear witness to the lived experience of those students who feel invisiblized and silenced at Dartmouth.” In his welcome back message, Jae promised “to do everything in [his] power to continue to provide this service for you free of charge as an outlet and platform for you to speak your mind when in other circumstances it would be silenced.”

When awful things appear on b@b it's a symptom of a much bigger problem at Dartmouth. I support b@b for the same reason I support Big Green Micro-Aggressions: both give us a platform on which to share our stories and a forum in which to find that we are not alone.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous31.1.13

    Correction to last sentence: "...both give us a platform to share our stories and a forum which helps us pretend we are not alone."