Campus News

‘Posters Anonymous’…therapy or threat?

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How many of us have heard the phrase, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” Probably too many of us. For years, our parents taught us the danger of words, since once they’re out there, they can’t be taken back. But something seems to be catching on among college campuses that may be a workaround to this problem. Enter apps such as Whisper, Yik Yak and others, which allow users to share photos and text posts under the mask of anonymity. Anonymous posting in a sense has been around since the Internet began, with usernames replacing our actual names on websites, but these apps take that principle to the next level by allowing users to have no name at all attached to their posts. “I think there’s a surge in interest for just about anything that involves opinion sharing,” said sophomore communications major Zac Nelson. “So anything where people can talk about themselves or what they think.” Shawn Holtgren, vice president of student development, sees anonymous social media as a significant trend. “I think it’s huge right now, and I think some of that’s the novelty,” said Holtgren. “When something new comes out, everyone kind of wants to experience it and see what it’s about. So I think you’ve got people even signing up for Yik Yak who won’t even regularly use it, but they think, oh the novelty of it is kind of cool and I’ve heard about it, so they sign on.” In talking about the pros of social media in general, Holtgren pointed out something in his office known as the “Wittenberg Door,” which was used at Bethel up until about 5 or 6 years ago as a sort of bulletin board/discussion center for students. It was taken down because the social media explosion rendered the door unused. The door’s name is a reference to the Protestant leader Martin Luther, who is believed to have posted his extremely controversial “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Church in 1517. “The Wittenberg Door was a place for people to post their thoughts," said Holtgren. "They did have to attach their name to it, it couldn’t be anonymous or it was taken down, but it was a great way to start conversations." As for reasons for this surge in interest in anonymity, opinions are as plentiful as people you ask. “I think that the issue of anonymity with the Internet has been around for a long time,” said Director of Campus Activities and Manges Hall Resident Director Reed Lyons. “I think whenever you can kind of present yourself in a certain way online that doesn’t have to have any verification, you can get into this idea of kind of pretending like you are someone else, or feeling like you can voice any opinion or any type of opinion without any repercussion to your personal character or integrity.” Nelson said, “I think the anonymity of it is just kind of another interesting, appealing way. Lots of social networks have their interesting quirk, and I think the anonymous thing is both interesting individually, on its own, and then also as a quirk, like, ‘Oh, that’s something to look at,’ but then also has deeper implications in that you can say whatever you want without consequence, which is really appealing to a lot of people.” So is it good or is it bad? Does it help encourage discussion or allow for attacks on the character of others? Well, like many things, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. “You get to say what you’re feeling, you get to get things off your chest,” said Michael Yoder, resident director of Brenneman and Ramseyer Hall. “I’m not recommending that people go to Yik Yak and vent all their frustrations there, obviously it’d be better to talk to someone else…(but) some people can’t do that, so if that’s an outlet for somebody, that’s good, just like how working out is an outlet for somebody.” Freshman undeclared major J McCutcheon said, “I’d say a good part is maybe the attitude about it. And while that can be an ‘all for myself’ attitude and (you’re) just free to do what you want, it can also be very interesting just to study…and just have a good time and look at things people are posting and just going through your day and laughing about it.” But at the same time, anonymity can turn around and hurt the users as well. Yoder went on to say that lack of accountability is definitely a con of this type of social media. “When you’re allowed to post or say whatever you want online, I think that opens up doors for not really saying what you mean or it opens up doors for bullying,” he said. Lyons said, “I’m often considering what I’m going to say before I’m going to say it, and just personally I find that to be a wiser practice, to kind of use discernment and to think about what you say before you say it rather than just trying to find an outlet to blurt your responses without the fear of reaction." McCutcheon said, “Some of the (cons) are what can be liked up, like what can be popular on Yik Yak. It can be the worst thing in the world and people will upload it because they have a strong opinion about it. And there’s not a lot of intelligent Yaks on Yik Yak, I’ll tell you that.” Another concern Yoder had is that posts online never really go away. “People are posting things on social media, and that stuff stays around forever, or until you delete them,” he said. “And even sometimes, even after you’ve deleted them, they’re going to be there because people have screenshotted or people have it. And people don’t understand…when you go to get hired, people are going to be looking at your social media…and so whether you have pictures of you partying on there, or swearing, as dumb as that sounds, your persona online matters just as much as your face-to-face interview.” Holtgren cited specifically negative Yaks about the chapel bands. These posts called one band “a joke,” and another few used racial slurs to refer to a band. “That is 99 percent of what I see on anonymous social posting,” said Holtgren. Holtgren went on to say that it’s hard to lead a student body when these types of comments are being posted. “If you’re up trying to lead and trying to serve the student body and then you’re getting these types of criticisms, albeit anonymous sources, and probably the .001 percent of the student body, but that hurts,” he said. “I think it can damage relationships, I think it can lead to misunderstandings.” And from a technical standpoint, a post on telapost.com states “using an app requires an IP address. This is like a postal address for your phone. When you connect to a network, you get this address in order to send and receive data. Of course, app developers can easily see your IP address and with that information investigators can easily see from your wireless provider precisely who you are and where you are.” In Mountain Grave, Mo., a community was profoundly affected by anonymous social media, specifically a site known as Topix, where residents posted extremely negative comments about people in town and at times spread unfounded rumors. Relationships in the town were strained, and some even left completely. So what is this? A harmless distraction or a devil’s plaything? “I think it’s in between. It could go either way depending on the person,” said McCutcheon. Nelson said, “It’s tough to generalize such a big thing. Honestly, I don’t know if I can say specifically if it’s harmful or helpful. For me specifically, it’s made me more aware of thoughts that are going around in people’s heads…it’s just made me more understanding of the fact that personally I need to make sure that everything I do online, whether it’s my own personal profile or on something anonymous, that anything I’m posting is something that’s going to add value to others’ lives.” Holtgren said, “I generally think most technology is neutral. And I think that we can use it for good and we can use it for ill. It’s a tool. The Internet can be used for great things, I mean, the communication of the Gospel. It can be also used for totally degrading things and horrible things that tear people down.” Yoder cautioned that students should be careful of what they do with this media. “If you’re not promoting love, and as clichéd as that sounds, if you’re not promoting Jesus or love, don’t do it. And you don’t have to be a Christ follower to understand decency,” he said. Lyons cited talking face-to-face as having better effects on students that anonymously venting online. “I think there’s a time for venting, there’s a time for frustration (and) there’s a time for talking through opinions and frustrations and challenges openly,” he said. “But…more growth and more challenge comes from it if you’re talking to someone who can actually respond to your opinions and give you feedback and help you work through stuff, rather than just posting for the sake of posting.” So while anonymous posting may be a bit of a double-edged sword, the help (or damage) it can do really depends on its user. Maybe sometimes it’s better to post a truly honest opinion anonymously online that you may not be so comfortable sharing in person. But maybe sometimes it’s better to talk through problems with someone you trust. Or maybe sometimes it’s just okay to scroll through and have a good laugh at students’ mutual distaste for the Dining Commons’ food. That may be worth an up vote every once in a while.

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