Brooks: Attacking Anonymity
By David Brooks, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, August 17, 2012
To the delight of Dartmouth’s internet trolls, the popular yet infamous message board Bored at Baker will be back up and running on Sept. 1. The site has apparently been down for the majority of the term, but the break from Bored at Baker seems to have gone unnoticed by much of the Dartmouth community.
I can’t help but think we might be better off if it were gone for good. Since this is unlikely, I hope the discourse among users on the site changes drastically upon its inevitable return.
Bored at Baker allows users to post about any topic of their choosing, safe from the fear of reprisal. Posts range from hilarious to borderline criminal, and it is these latter posts that are most dangerous and insidious.
My freshman fall offered me the opportunity to see firsthand the effects that Bored at Baker can have on a student. A female friend of mine was repeatedly mentioned in Bored at Baker posts, which ranged from comments on her attractiveness to detailed descriptions of supposed sexual exploits.
This culminated in a post in which one poster said something along the lines of, “Did anybody see her tight blue formal dress? Man, I want to rape her.” The post as written was extremely troubling, and it was made worse by the number of “agrees” the post received.
For the rest of the term, these and subsequent posts hung over my friend’s head. She appealed to the administration without much success. Understandably, she worried for her safety, and her grades began to slip as a result.
I have heard and read all of the defenses from the regular users of Bored at Baker before. They claim that the posts are just anonymous jokes, or that if a person is dissatisfied with the content of the posts on the site he or she can choose to ignore them.
However, a poster’s anonymity only extends as far as the Dartmouth community. Harmful posts often relay intimate knowledge about the people they castigate, shrinking the potential pool of miscreants. In the example of my friend, the poster was likely a Facebook friend or someone who had seen her that night. Imagine walking around campus wondering which of your acquaintances is publicly advocating violence against you.
Identifying a fellow classmate by name and expressing a desire to rape her isn’t funny. When Bored at Baker posts cross the line in this matter, the original poster and his random internet supporters predictably swoop in to remind others not to take things so seriously. Yet posts that target members of our community aren’t written as jokes, and there’s no punch line. Trying to claim such posts are jokes after the fact is a dishonest attempt by a person who wants to escape responsibility for his or her words.
The “don’t like it, don’t read it” defense is another escape for those who wish to shirk responsibility for their words. But this line what incorrectly shifts the responsibility from the speaker to the person attacked.
I’m not saying everything about Bored at Baker is bad. An outlet for anonymous discussion provides students the opportunity to discuss campus issues without fear of reprisal.
Many posts are genuinely funny, and I see no problem with students trying to have fun by pretending to be an online personality.
Although I am convinced that only a small segment of our community engages in this behavior, I believe those students openly advocating harm should be stripped of their anonymity. That kind of dialogue has no place in our community.