In a semester that has seen the current incarnation of the Wesleyan ACB get mentions from PSafe and other school officials due to its creepy spasms of racism, it may be an object of comfort, or of worry, to know that the ACB of Oberlin, our sister (?) in the Midwest, has had some problems with repressed negative feelings as well. Jezebel has the story of a former student named Cate Minall, who was at first called a slut on Oberlin’s Oberlin Confessional board (which, by the way, requires an Oberlin e-mail address to sign up for, thus ensuring that all intolerance is perfectly endemic to your community) in the 2006-2007 school year. She was like, “okay, fine, everyone gets called a slut on this board. I’m just going to starve the trolls and ignore it.” Things began to escalate and get creepy, though, as some anonymous listener stealthily picked her life apart:
But then things spiraled out of control. Anonymous posters wrongfully accused Minall of spreading STDs, stealing boyfriends, and sleeping with professors in order to pass classes. A 60-page thread piled up overnight that was dedicated entirely to Minall’s sexual exploits, some accurate but most completely false.
“It got to the point where I couldn’t go anywhere on campus, because everything I said in class would be posted and torn apart,” Minall, now 24, recalled. “It wasn’t just on the computer anymore.” Friends and prospective love interests were scared away by the rumors. One night, her room was broken into and trashed. Someone found her address and posted it online, threatening to contact her family and let them know what their little girl had been up to — or, rather, what Oberlin Confessional thought she was up to.
The only reason Minall can think of as to why she was targeted is that she was very social and visible on campus—something one shouldn’t have to apologize for. Eventually, she reported the board to the administration, who said they couldn’t do anything because it was run by a student. When she withdrew from the university and came back about a year later, a new website called Obietalk had popped up. Posters found out that she wrote from an international law blog and posted links from Obietalk in an apparent attempt to ruin her professional reputation. That was when she gave up.
The writer from Jezebel has screenshots from the board, which seems to be housing what is in my opinion more virulently racist stuff than the Wesleyan ACB. Oberlin’s administration, however, has continued to have a hands-off approach, their only action being to urge ObieTalk to install a self-monitoring system. Some students feel the administration hasn’t done enough. “Does [Vice President of Communications Ben Jones] have any understanding of what it’s like for someone to read that they should be ‘put in the fields to pick some cotton to get your lard-ass into shape’, as a recent post told a certain individual to do?” Ruby Turok-Squire ’16, a contributor to Oberlin’s official Student Life blog, wrote in April, pointing out that many hateful posts on Obietalk targeted women, minorities, and freshmen. “Does he understand that as soon as hate speech has been published online, the damage is done? Moderation comes after the fact. All it really takes is one comment to deeply hurt someone and ruin their lives at Oberlin.” Lena Dunham appears to have made some creative lemonade, though.
Furthermore, moderation doesn’t address the root cause of the problem: that there appear to be people walking around the campus that for whatever reason feel the urge to express these inhumane and intolerant views. Whoever runs Wesleyan’s ACB has a strict policy of removing posts containing students’ names, which perhaps helps avoid situations like Minall’s, but it certainly doesn’t help us answer this question. Is moderating the discourse on these online forums worth the violation of free speech? Or are online, anonymous forums even necessary at all? Is Wes Compliments an appropriate alternative, or is it important to be able to post comments that aren’t unequivocally positive? Debate amongst yourselves.