Kenyon Confession: Your Anonymity is Problematic

(via kenyon.edu)

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. In my personal experience at Kenyon, anonymity, and I mean true, prevalent, lasting anonymity, got its footing in the comment section of The Thrill. This was a place where you could post almost whatever you wanted, and it would be seen, heard, and engaged with. It started as harmless. It’s perfectly within anyone’s right to say they don’t think one of our posts is funny, or that we’re not good writers. But I’ve watched these comments turn into repeated sexual harassment, to unfounded accusations against other students, groups, professors, and departments.

And then Kenyon Confessions came along. Like The Thrill‘s anonymous commenting system, both of these things were created with the best of intentions. But inevitably, a space for discussion and advice ended up sharing a platform with a space to call each other “cunts.”

And now there’s Yik Yak. And what’s scary about Yik Yak is that unlike The Thrill and Kenyon Confessions, there is no filter, and there is no choice. By using the app, you are subject to any post created by anyone around you, even if it’s only up there for a matter of seconds before being flagged down, if it’s flagged down at all.

It’s no longer the ~internet~ but the Internet. It’s almost the entirety of our culture and I love it. But that means that just because something is written on a blog or app does not mean we should write it off as not being a part of real life. In a small community like Kenyon, Yakking “Let’s go gang rape Crozier!” is not just a shout in the dark. It’s heard and it’s real and it’s personal.

With what happened yesterday fresh on our minds, I’m not the only one who’s scared. Scared because, for the first time, an anonymous threat on one of these platforms was physically manifested. Scared because if that threat was real, then every other threat should be treated as valid. Scared because for reasons I can’t explain, women are being targeted with a vulgarity and vigor that I can’t believe is happening on a campus that I thought was respectful, thoughtful, and safe.

I don’t want to write this as just a woman. I don’t want to write this as though women are the only people who have suffered through anonymity on this campus. I’m writing this as a member who values this community. Racial slurs, homophobic slurs, ableist slurs all find their way into Kenyon. But when that has happened, the majority has always risen up and squelched the bigots who’ve expressed them. I don’t feel like women are in the majority on this one.

If somebody has a legitimate concern or issue with how this campus is being run, they have almost endless options for how to express that in a productive way that reaches the right ears and makes a change. When you turn to a platform like Yik Yak, I don’t think you actually care about change. You care about making your victims feel as small and as unsafe as possible. And it’s working.

It’s your choice to use Yik Yak, and it’s your choice to delete it. One Thrill post won’t convince you either way, especially because I’m sure that this will mostly fall on deaf ears. Yaks are only fun to write if people read them. The app will only succeed if there’s an audience. Take that away, and it’s just three bigots talking to each other. I hope you won’t be one of them.

 

19 responses

  1. The problem isn’t anonymity on the Internet, however. Attacking, or preaching the removal of, Yik Yak doesn’t get at the problem. Let me be clear—bigoted, racist, sexist shit is not okay. But all of this talk as if the anonymity that comes with the Internet, or Yik Yak in this case, is—in my opinion—misguided. We like to blame things on forums rather than the “community” we live in. And make no mistake, the derogatory statements in question are coming from the Kenyon community. With this in mind, it seems that it isn’t the Internet that needs to change—and let’s be honest, anonymous forums are going nowhere—but the beliefs and thoughts of those who are bigoted, racist, sexist, etc. We need to take responsibility for this as a community rather than attempting to place the blame on an inanimate object.

    • Part of that change of the community is civil discourse–of which there is none in an unmoderated anonymous public forum. You can’t change somebody’s beliefs and thoughts when they’re getting immediate upvote-fueled endorphin rushes for posting anonymous threats. There’s no way to have a conversation in that cacophony.

    • Anonymous forum postings are always going to be a seed for derogatory, sexist, racist comments because people can get away with saying them without any consequences. An organization is not going to be able to shut down yik yak, or any other anonymous site due to comments about them. There’s no filter on this one, and that’s either a good or bad thing. There is however a flag button in which can immediately take down posts(roughly 3flags). As a community, you can flag posts on yik yak for example that anybody deems inappropriate. Trying to change a community through arguing on anonymous posting just creates the opposite effect. Posts are still harrasment, and the best solution is to get off of it if and away from the source. It’s the internet, there’s some shady corners… I doubt most of these people are sexist, and just get caught up in the arguments online. I personally feel safe at kenyon.. Just saying

      • The number of people who still feel safe is irrelevant–what matters is those who are made to feel unsafe.

      • Reminder: Stereotyping someone based on their extracurricular activities is lazy. Stereotyping someone based on their race, gender identity, or sexual orientation is (almost always) just another addition to a long, often-violent legacy of discrimination in this country — whether the stereotyper realizes it or not.

        Second reminder: Those two things are different.

    • This seems like a measured, reasonable response. Upset that people are making mean generalizations and judging you unfairly? Better do the same thing back to them!

      I’m sorry your feelings are hurt, I really am. And I actually do think that whoever stole from Crozier is beyond low. But your comment does literally nothing positive for any side involved here.

  2. I think that this discussion almost gets at the problems of censorship. Nobody wants censorship, but Yik Yak is creating a culture of violence at Kenyon and I’m scared too. Yik Yak might be a fun thing at a big university, but here, we already know everything about each other without an app. It would be great to use Yik Yak to institute social change and promote positive attitudes within our community, but I guess that’s too much to expect or hope for. I feel like this is a calm before a storm and something bad is going to happen that is going to change the way that we interact with each other here. I hope I’m wrong.

    • Kate, I don’t think it’s fair to pin the blame of the Crozier heist on Yik Yak. As a journalist, you ought to be more factual in your writing, especially when you’re writing an opinion piece. The general misogyny and bigotry on Yik Yak (while horrible) was not ‘physically manifested’ in what happened to the Crozier Center. If there was such a threat on Yik Yak, you need to show your reader some evidence (like a screenshot or something) because all of this seems to be a matter of speculation. Regardless, the application doesn’t create bigotry. Rather the app is a medium for bigotry that has existed all along. How do you account for the Unity House Flag Incident? It didn’t happen because of an anonymous online forum– it was the result of the actions of one or a few ugly individuals.

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