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The inevitable encroachment of normie memes

in News/Uncategorized by

In the fleeting moments in between classes or procrastinating before starting that seven page paper due tomorrow, college students across the country often turn to their institution’s Facebook meme pages for entertainment. At Swarthmore, it seems as if the source of happiness has taken an unfortunately normie turn.

The college’s main meme page, Swarthmore Memes for Quaker Teens, often includes Swarthmore-related posts, such as the sad selection of Sharples’ breakfast and the lofty promises of the administration. Other popular posts cover current topics issues like the Korean treaty and Kanye West’s endorsement of Donald Trump.

In the past few weeks, however, students have complained that the content of such posts has become less original and more general, or “normie.” Josh Geselowitz ’21 explained that specificity most often produces better memes, and SM4QT’s niche is the college.

“I prefer the Swarthmore-related memes because other meme pages have better non-school related memes,” he said. “Either because they also have a specific topic or because they’re larger and therefore will likely have better content.”

Alessandro Getzel ’21 called for an end to normie memes at Swarthmore.

“I think memes that are actually about Swat are always the most successful on the meme page,” he said. “I get tired of seeing the same memes getting reposted from ‘sassy socialist memes’ or ‘college student problems.’ I mostly just want spicy, original content.”

In its current form, SM4QT includes almost 1,800 members, a group type of “family,” and location of Hell, Michigan. Any Swarthmore student can gain access, and many opt to stay in after graduation. The most popular posts garner over 200 reactions; the average post receives around 30.

According to USA Today College, the college meme-craze began in 2015—also around the time that Erin Jenson ’17 created the first campus-wide Swarthmore meme page, SM4QT moderator Dakota Gibbs ’18 reported. However, an unfortunate lack of moderation led to too many offensive posts, which propelled Kat Galvis Rodriguez ’17 to create SM4QT around a year later.

New guidelines were put in place to avoid the old drama and to bring in a new sense of inclusion amongst the Swarthmore meme community, Gibbs said. Now, one admin, Amorina Pearce ’19, and four moderators—Gibbs, Faith Booker ’21, Matthew Chen ’17, and Harsha Sen ’19—approve all posts before memes can become public. The group rarely rejects memes, but occasionally will veto one if it contains racist, classist, queerphobic, transphobic, sexist or otherwise discriminatory undertones.

In June, USA Today reported that students flock to college-centric meme pages—a subset of larger online forums like Reddit—to express sarcastic and bitter feelings about college. The pages serve as relatable outlets for such tension created especially by higher learning institutions.

Gibbs added that Swat-specific memes, which range from wholesome to political, serve a vital purpose in any Swattie’s life.

“[These memes] allow people to vent and express issues in a low pressure format and be a part of community,” he said. “Memes makes things very relatable and humorous in a way that is easily consumed in today’s internet culture.”

Booker said that memes serve a variety of functions on campus.

“Comic relief because we’re all stressed, procrastination when we don’t want to be working zombies, and a way to comment on and share frustration with administration, student culture, and other problems on campus,” she said. “It’s also a way to share your happiness and things you think are funny with other people.”

However, several students question how far the college meme culture can go without turning ugly. One student expressed discomfort with how many graphically sexual memes are featured on the group. Another suggested that in the comments of a meme is not the best platform to host debates.

Separately, Grace Taylor ’21 explained that she does not understand many memes on the main group page and called for more transparency from meme posters.

In response to the recent upsurge of normie content, Swarthmore shitposting—an offshoot of the all-inclusive meme page—sprouted about a year ago. The group includes about 350 Swarthmore students, all of whose entrance was approved by three administrators.

Pearce said SM4QT is an outlet for students to share more generic memes with a large group, while Swarthmore shitposting hosts more niche, often weird content for a selective group.

“People want a space to post weird stuff without feeling like 1,763 people are looking at it like ‘WTF,’” she said. “The group is very protective of its weirdness.”

Swarthmore shitposting moderator Nora Shao ’19 said the group was intended for a specific kind of humor and performance.

“Swarthmore Shitposting was originally a place for a cultivated, very strict competitive performance … Normie strikes were originally a mechanism for maintaining that performance while also being a part of that performance,” she said.

Last month, a student received pushback for posting a meme dubbed too normie to be allowed in such a group. The student’s expulsion from the page was debated, as was whether or not the group should “zucc,” or delete, themselves for becoming too large. (The term originates from the idea that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg can delete Facebook pages on a whim.)

Pearce said the term “normie” can be either ironic or elitist depending on the context. Lately, she said, calling out such content has turned into the latter, which has intimidated new members.

“If there’s a question about whether it’s normie or not, I would say to post it in SM4QT. Save the really weird shit for shitposting,” she said. “Swarthmore shitposting uses the term to set a boundary between what should be posted in the main meme page and what should go in shitposting.”

Two weeks ago on SM4QT, an incoming freshman posted a photo that pictured a rattled-looking Jim from The Office with the caption: “mood when you were admitted early decision and the meme group is full of memes about not liking swat.” The meme received 270 reactions.

Current Swarthmore students and alumni swarmed the comments of the incoming freshman’s post in SM4QT to reaffirm that they made the right college decision. They emphasized the constant roasting of the college on the meme page is, mostly, in good fun.

Courtney Caolo ’21 commented with a Harry Potter meme captioned, “…you’re gonna suffer but you’re gonna be happy about it.” Tom McGovern ’17 said attending Swarthmore was the best thing that’s ever happened to him and offered to chat about any concerns the student might have.

“Truth is, the griping doesn’t necessarily mean there’s any place we’d rather have ended up,” Gabriel Meyer-Lee ’19 commented, which received 41 reactions. “We criticize admin not necessarily bc they’re worse than other schools but because we want to be better.”

While the meme culture at Swarthmore might be headed in a normie direction, Swat memes still serve to unite the community in a unique way. They still reflect real frustrations seen on campus, such as the uphill battle of o4S and the Sabra hummus ban—and even provide comic relief in between classes. Just keep the content original.

A queer uprising at Swarthmore: what does it meme?

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

On the chilly evening of March 15, snow lay on the ground from the winter storm that had recently swept across Swarthmore’s campus. Little did we know that there was another storm approaching. No, not with wind, nor sleet nor snow — oh no, nothing could prepare us for this storm, not umbrella nor coat nor boots: a meme storm was coming.

It all started in the humble abode of the Swat Danker Memes Society page on Facebook. This page is a place where over 1,000 Swatties (a surge in members came after aforementioned storm) come together to share relatable memes, sometimes post original content, and just generally have a good time.

However, this was not the case on March 15, at 4:30 pm. No, on this fated day the revelry was displaced by none other than, the discourse. It all started with fairly innocent origins when a member posted a meme that consisted of a bit of an inside joke for the queer community. Some non-queer members of the Swat Danker Memes Society, naturally, were confused about what it all meant, and one reached out to the community for an explanation —no problem here. It is what happens afterwards, however, that struck a nerve within the queer community and caused the page to gradually evolve from comment war to gay meme hellfire.

A member of the queer community rejected this request for explanation. Their declination to explain, however, was not met with the same earnest desire for learning and respect for the queer community that the original question suggested. What happened next was an overwhelming flow of online discourse on the matter of respectability politics, whether the queer community (or any marginalized community for that matter) owes anyone an explanation of their culture and many, many offshoot debates that included everything from misgendering people to US foreign policy. It was a bitter war that ended in deleted comments, screenshots, and even more memes. It was a sight to make any baby boomer stop in their tracks and go “those goddamned millennials.”

But what does it all matter? Can political debates on college meme pages have any significance? I’d first like to start this discussion by expressing my frustration that we even need this “Facebook war” in the first place. I was originally pretty upset that the queer community was just trying to enjoy a meme that was meant for them (and was hilarious, by the way) but it had to devolve into political arguments and discourse. However, at the end of the day, perhaps the conversations held around gender and the queer community were, if anything,  important for the growth of Swarthmore’s communal understanding of how to approach oppressed groups in their safe spaces. I do believe that it is perfectly respectable to ask questions about another’s culture — and that sometimes it may well generate enriching discourse that offers both parties a meaningful experience. However, as we have seen through last week’s online discussions, demanding that members of a community participate in discourse with you at your beck and call, even after they have expressed their desire not to, is where it gets dicey.

At the end of they day, a healthy dose of respect and a good understanding of your place is what is needed when approaching these situations. Sometimes, one needs to step back in an argument and ask themselves “Who am I really helping, and who am I hurting by saying/asking this? Am I simply putting unnecessary stress and pressure on already oppressed groups by saying/asking this? What are my privileges in this situation?” All it takes is a little conscientious thinking — really!

Now on to the gay memes. Yes, the glorious overflow of queer memes the following day, which was a response to the fact that all the arguing pretty much ruined the one posted the day before. This outpour of memes proved to me that we really can have nice things (sheds single tear). It may seem trivial, but I’m super pumped by the unity and hilarity of Swat’s queer community that was shown that day.

People might say that the debates were pseudo-activism and there is no real depth behind anything that occurred that day. However, I would like to disagree, activism starts with raising your voice — in whatever context, whether that be online, or in the newspaper or at a protest. No one is saying that you’re going to single-handedly change the world with a Facebook post, but social change happens after the culmination of several incessant voices who refuse to be silent in every sphere of discourse. That day, the Swat Danker Memes page happened to be one of those spheres. Believe it or not, people can tackle more than one issue at once, and being active on  a Facebook debate doesn’t mean you aren’t engaging in other forms of activism in different areas.

Also, as it relates to the specific act of the proliferation of queer memes one needs to remember that the queer community wasn’t trying to be activists in the first place: we were trying to feel good about ourselves. No one is saying that memes are some shining form of activism that are going to change the world (though that may be up for debate). But in those moments, they made the queer community feel empowered and united. It sure as hell made me feel good after feeling pretty frustrated with the whole thing. Isn’t that what matters?  

The Facebook feed tells the story

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Social media presents us with a rare opportunity. It provides us with a glimpse of our past selves, so we can reflect on how things have changed and how we’ve grown. I’ve found this to be especially true in the last few days and hours of the election. I’ve expressed a broad range of emotions on social media in the past week, as have many of my peers, friends, and families. The following timeline represents my own feelings as the election happened. I understand that my story doesn’t speak for everyone, but I still think it’s important for us to remember in the future what it was like to experience this momentous event.

Nov. 2 at 11:49 p.m.

” ’Donald Trump elected president? Yeah, when the Cubs win the World Series…’ “

Nov. 3 at 12:10 a.m.

“New HRC Ohio campaign ad: ‘Don’t lose twice in November. Vote for Hillary.’ ”

Nov. 7 at 11:25 p.m.

“It’s easy to dismiss one’s vote as being unimportant in this election. With upwards of 100 million of our fellow citizens also casting their ballots tomorrow, such a position is understandable. But consider this: the United States constitutes 4.4 percent of the global population. Roughly half the total US population will vote. This means that around two percent of all people on Earth will get the opportunity to make the most important political decision in recent memory. 98 percent of people won’t get to choose who controls the world’s mightiest military. A vast minority of people won’t get the chance to pick the next leader of the free world. In this election, American citizens are a privileged few. We cannot ignore the massive responsibility we have to the world.

Please vote tomorrow. Make your voice heard not just to your friends, [neighbors, and peers], but to the planet. They’re counting on us.”

Nov. 8 at 2:25 p.m.

“A sticker and free waffles? I love voting!”

Nov. 8 at 10:05 p.m.

(An animated gif of Hillary Clinton downing a glass of wine)

Nov. 9 at 12:04 a.m.

“This is what happens when America takes democracy for granted.”

Nov. 9 at 3:45 a.m.

“For the first time I can remember, I’m sobbing uncontrollably. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. I can’t process the idea that a man so contrary to everything I hold dear will now be the representative to the world of the country I love so much.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt emotions as intense as these. Not when I came out as gay. Not when I lost dear friends. Not when I was at my lowest moments of self-doubt.

In dire times like these, I’m reminded of the climactic scene from ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’ In it, a young and idealistic senator makes a final pitch for decency in a corrupt world: ‘Love thy neighbor. And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust.’

Love thy neighbor, be that neighbor man or woman, black or white, gay or straight, big or small. All of us deserve to be treated as human beings, and if our president can’t do that, then it’s our job to ensure that no one on this beautiful Earth forgets that.”

———————————————————————————————————————–

Our next step is not an easy one. It goes beyond poetic lamentations or declarations of despair on social media. After we have grieved, we must act on our anger and sorrow, and channel our emotions into a movement for the things we profess to love—democracy, freedom, and tolerance. If we are to prevent this country from becoming the place we fear it may become—one of hatred, inequality, and ignorance—then it is imperative that we stand up and fight for our beliefs.

It was encouraging on Wednesday morning to scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook and see that many of my peers here at Swat felt the same way that I did about the election results. It was encouraging because it shows that we as a community have strength in numbers. We can shape politics going forward in our community, just as long as we agree to band together and take action.

“IX Connection” extends to Swarthmore students

in Around Campus/News by

In March of this year, University of North Carolina (UNC) student Andrea Pino, along with three other women, Annie Clark (UNC), Dana Bolger (Amherst College) and Alexandra Brodsky (Yale University), created an online support system for survivors of sexual assault — a Facebook group titled the “IX Connection.” Both Pino and Clark, two of the first women to garner national attention for speaking out against sexual misconduct on campuses and colleges’ treatment of survivors, were receiving dozens of emails, Facebook messages, and tweets from survivors across the country looking for support when they decided to form it.

“We realized that for many survivors, there was no safe space to talk about their experiences, and that many didn’t have other survivors to process with,” said Pino in an e-mail. “We knew that campus rape was a national problem, and that beyond a safe space, we also needed a way to connect our stories; a place where we could talk about how what was happening on our individual campuses was happening on every campus.”

The group, which was originally home to around 20 members, now seeks to support and engage 754 survivors and allies. Allison Hrabar ’16, a survivor of sexual assault, was added this summer when it had 500 members.

“It’s been good as far as connecting me to other people who can give me advice,” Hrabar said. Many of its members provided her with advice on how to proceed with reporting and filing a case at Swarthmore. Some of them eventually became her friends and important sources of support.

However, she has also had some issues with the page. She was part of several conversations that got deleted, one which, in fact, had stemmed from a post that she herself had written.

“There have been a couple of frustrating conversations,” she said. “There was one post that said, ‘white supremacy doesn’t exist in this group and I feel unsafe as a white person,’ and there was an argument about it and then the post got deleted.”

Pino herself sees “the balance of supporting survivors individually and managing a group of over 750 people” as one of the main problems that she and the other three moderators are struggling with.

“Sexual violence is a very difficult topic, and many people are triggered on a daily basis,” she said. “It’s been a challenge knowing when to be a supportive ally, and when to know that you have limits; especially if you yourself are a survivor.”

Nadia Dawisha, a PhD student at UNC, has worked with both Pino and Clark, and now with their new Title IX coordinator to create more responsive and sensitive policies at their university. She felt her position as an approachable authority (she teaches classes at UNC) would offer her a unique set of resources to tackle issues surrounding sexual misconduct on campus. The group was one of the main mediums through which her work at the university was informed.

“I didn’t really have much knowledge [about sexual assault] coming into this and I think that going into that group, where people were sharing resources and I could hear different testimonials from different survivors helped,” she said. “[But] I think that while the Facebook group is great as a hub, there’s no way that we can solve every issue in one Facebook group.”

It is for this reason that Dawisha is involved in smaller groups targeting more specific communities of survivors. She believes that Facebook, where one post bumps the previous one down, makes it difficult for every voice to be adequately heard and for support to be provided equitably.

Laura Dunn, a law student at the University of Maryland focusing on victim’s rights, is an active member of the Facebook group. She believes this is one of the problems about having an online community.

“I know I personally try to like or respond to anyone’s comments that need attention or are highlighting often silenced issues, even if it’s just thanking someone for sharing,” she said in an e-mail.

According to Hrabar this is a particularly poignant point for people belonging to marginalized communities, whose voices are silenced more frequently.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints from people of color in the group and a lot of the queer members … who’ve had some trouble as far as being not necessarily understood, but even heard because [the page] is really big and it’s hard to balance that,” she said. “Posts about race are either much more censored or have a lot less discussion on them, stuff about disabilities or queerness [also]. Other posts may get picked up more often.”

When they do get picked up, posts about these issues often get more heated and therefore deleted, according to Hrabar. People have privately expressed issues with these posts and moderators have thought best to end the conversation, lest members are triggered. For this reason, Hrabar now uses this group mainly to connect with people and talk about more general issues.

“There is silencing and there will continue to be. If you’re working-class or of color or queer, you’re always going to have problems. But that goes for any space,” she said.

Peter Amadeo ’15, an ally involved in the IX Connection group, agrees that marginalized communities are not being heard equally.

“It’s frustrating, because I think a lot of primarily white cisgender women are going into this group and they talk about their ideas with other white cisgender women and they propagate their own ideas without thinking about other perspectives,” he said.

He does not think that smaller groups are a productive solution, though. Instead, he proposes a group that focuses more generally on all kinds of diversity in sexual assault, like ethnic, gender and sexual diversity.

“I don’t think you need a group for each one,” he said. “It would be a lot more productive [to have one group for people that belong to more marginalized communities] because you wouldn’t have as many people propagating the same ideas over and over again, like this big group is doing now.”

Dawisha thinks that “it is unfortunate that people felt like they needed to make separate groups because they didn’t feel welcome.” Still, she understands that certain groups may be affected by some issues that others are not privy to, and for that reason, small groups could be useful.

Brodsky, answering simultaneous claims of silencing and safety, recently posted that she and the three other creators would be creating a committee to establish “community principles and a moderation plan” in order to make sure that the page becomes an inclusive and safe space for all its members.

Hrabar doesn’t think that a 100 percent safe and open space (especially if posts are heavily moderated) can be created. Still, she admires the creators’ commitment to this end.

Let’s Talk About Sex(ting)

in Around Campus/News by

Despite horror stories splashed across the news on the evils of sexting and the life-ruining capacity of naked pictures, Swarthmore students who use technology such as Skype and texting to have sexual interactions or exchange sexual content say they aren’t worried. Virtual sex is a normal part of long-distance relationships for some students, though they don’t believe that sexting is necessarily widespread.

Over winter break, Mary* was chatting on Facebook with another Swarthmore student, John, with whom she’d been having casual sex for the majority of fall semester.

John requested to video chat with Mary and she accepted the call. The conversation grew sexual when John asked if Mary missed having sex with him and took his shirt off.

“Then we both started masturbating, and then it progressed from there,” Mary recounted.

Video chat sex with John was not the first of Mary’s use of technology in a sexual capacity: during high school, she would send naked pictures of herself to boyfriends or those with whom she had hooked up.

“There are lots of naked pictures of me on people’s phones and computers,” Mary acknowledged, adding that she would often have phone sex with her boyfriend during high school.

Similarly to Mary and John, Sarah and her Swarthmore girlfriend, separated by a long distance, used Skype to have sex during breaks from school.

“We’d be Skyping, just normal video-chatting and talking because we were far away, and then eventually, because it’s someone you’re used to having sex with a lot, just talking to them makes you really horny, so I’d just say really forward things like, ‘I want to fuck you,’ and I’d bring my laptop upstairs to my room,” Sarah recounted.

Another — a sophomore — used Skype for sex with her long-distance boyfriend, who graduated from Swarthmore last year. She said that mostly, she would engage in sex over Skype in Kohlberg classrooms.

“I’d be studying and Skyping him, and then…” Lorelai trailed off. Sometimes, she said, her boyfriend would begin watching pornography while the two Skyped, making his desire for sex obvious, but other times, sex would result from Lorelai’s attraction to her boyfriend.

For Mary, Sarah and Lorelai, deciding to sexually engage with someone via technology is all a matter of comfort and trust, which eliminates the need to worry about sexual content going public.

Mary said that while she thought a boy might show a friend a photograph on his phone, she was never worried that her photograph would be sent to someone else’s phone or computer, even if she eventually had a messy breakup. “I knew that no one would actually do that,” Mary said.

For Sarah, Skype seemed to be a relatively safe form of having virtual sex.

“I feel like on Skype, the other person is more involved, and less likely to take a snapshot,” she said. “If I sent something via text, if someone has an iPhone they could just click ‘save’.”

Sarah said she had never exchanged naked pictures of herself, and didn’t plan on ever doing so. While Sarah said she trusted her girlfriend, she would still worry about a naked picture in the hands of an ex.

“I’d feel weird with that, because what if, one day, she was horribly mad at me?” Sarah explained. “That would make me really paranoid.”

Lorelai echoed Sarah’s feeling of security with sticking exclusively to Skype.

“Skype is different from Snapchat or text,” she said (Snapchat is a photo messaging service). “You assume that you can’t really record on Skype, unless you have some sort of special program, so in general it’s a safer thing. It’s not like your phone, where anyone can get onto it and look at the contents.”

Lorelai said she had once sent a naked picture to her (now ex) boyfriend, and regretted it after their breakup. Later, she wished she had not sent the picture, partially because she included her face in the photo. “The one rule for dirty pictures is that they should not have your face in them, and I completely forgot that,” she said.

Lorelai also realized she had not trusted her boyfriend enough to send him the photo. “It comes back when you review the relationship,” she said. “You can’t actually trust someone that much.”

Though Sarah feels safe using Skype, she will not have virtual sex with just anyone — her willingness depends upon the relationship. “It requires a certain level of intimacy and trust,” Sarah explained. While she had Skype sex with her girlfriend after only a few months of dating, she never did so with her boyfriend in high school, whom she dated for over a year.

Mary agreed with Sarah’s assessment.

“There are people that I just don’t ever send pictures to,” she explained. While Mary hooks up regularly with a boy from her hometown, she has never sent him a picture before. “I don’t feel like I want him to see it. I’m not comfortable with it,” she said.

For Mary, exchanging sexual content through technology depends upon trust and comfort rather than upon the length of a relationship. “There’s another guy who I’ve never dated — we’ve only hooked up a few times — but I find myself able to send him a picture, and not this other guy,” Mary explained. “It’s not like I can be pressured — some, I’ll say sure, and others, I’ll say no.”

Mary added that she wasn’t at all worried about having photographs or text messages made public, or being arrested on child pornography charges. Laws vary from state to state, but teenagers who have sent or received photos of themselves or others have been charged with distribution and possession of child pornography.

Instead, Mary said, she was most worried about being caught in the act by a parent or a friend. “I’d be worried that my parents would walk in while I was taking a picture, or while I was having Skype sex, or that they would hear [me having phone sex] or something,” Mary said.

Mary, Sarah and Lorelai don’t believe that using technology for sexual interactions is abnormal — in fact, Sarah said she was surprised at how normal Skype sex felt — though they agreed that it was not necessarily widespread among college students.

Mary does not think she is the only person who engages in virtual forms of sex, though she believes that sexting is less prevalent than media portrays it to be. Sexting requires some degree of sexual liberation, she explained.

“I think some people do it, but I consider myself a fairly sexually uninhibited person,” Mary said. “All the people I’ve dated are the same. I’ve dated horny-out-of-their-mind guys, so we would do things that other couples may or may not have. It didn’t ever bother me or make me feel violated,” she explained.

Ultimately, Sarah believes there is no way of knowing how many people engage in virtual forms of sex. “Looking at me or [my ex-girlfriend] you would never expect that we had Skype sex all the time,” Sarah said. “I’d be surprised to hear that anyone does it, because you never know how other people like to have sex.”


*Mary, John Sarah and Lorelai are pseudonyms.

Swat Compliments

in Around Campus/Breaking News/News by

College students have a habit of creating online forums about their schools. Usually, such mediums satirize aspects of the college. Facebook is littered with various college meme pages like “Swatmemes.” Twitter feeds that poke fun at school culture, like “Swarthmore Girl Problems,” abound.But the most recent Internet phenomenon at Swarthmore is not rooted in sarcasm or lampooning. Indeed, it is quite the opposite.

Swarthmore Compliments, which joined Facebook on November 20th, just in time for Thanksgiving, is an online forum in which students have the opportunity to anonymously submit a compliment about a fellow member of the Swarthmore community. The page, which is administered by students who also have chosen not to reveal their identities, then posts the compliments for everyone to see.

Reception to the page has been extremely positive. “I just saw it in my news feed in Facebook as something that a number of people had liked. So I checked it out and I loved the concept,” said Nick Allred ’13, who himself has been the benefactor of a compliment. “I like the way in which it just brightens people’s day within the community,” he added.

Mickey Herbert ’15, who also received a compliment and has been active on the page, agreed. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “You only get nice people saying nice things.”

This forum is not unique to Swarthmore. Indeed, according to the page, the concept originated as a social experiment at Queen’s University. Since then, it has rapidly spread to other colleges.
It has also rapidly spread through the Swarthmore community. As of Wednesday morning, Swarthmore Compliments has over five hundred likes, all in the span of nine days.

Students seem to particularly value the fact that names are not attached to the compliments. “I think what’s coolest about it is it’s particularly rewarding to get an anonymous compliment simply because you know whoever is saying it has no agenda,” said Allred. “When it’s coming from no one in particular, it feels in some ways that it’s coming from everyone,” he added.

Herbert agreed. “It makes it that much more meaningful,” he said.

In addition, both Herbert and Allred supported the decision of the page moderators to remain anonymous.

“If you knew who was running it, that might change the whole dynamic of it and affect what people are sending,” said Herbert.

“As long as they’re running it simply as a platform for people to express their opinions, which I have no reason to expect they aren’t, I’m perfectly happy with their anonymity,” Allred added.
Many Internet pages, like Swatmemes, quiet down after initial bursts of popularity, a possibility that some see in the future of Swarthmore Compliments. “I’m sure that the flurry of activity will die down to some extent. I don’t know how long it will stick around,” said Allred.

But the fact that it is popular now, in Allred’s opinion, makes up for that. “To the extent that it’s existed at all,” he said, “I think it’s done wonderful things for our community.”

Orientation Committee and Admissions Office shift to closed Facebook group for first-years

in Around Campus/News by

In a change from years past, the Facebook page for the Class of 2016 has become an official, closed group controlled and monitored by the Admissions Office and the Orientation Committee and no longer created and maintained by incoming students or upperclassmen, changing how often and the methods by which new students use the group.

Now, only members of the Orientation Committee and the incoming class may join the group, according to Eddie Montenegro ’13, who co-directs the Orientation Committee along with Ellen Sanchez-Huerta ’13. Students requesting to join the group must first be approved by a member of the Admissions Office. Leaders of student groups are permitted to advertise on the page and recruit new members.

Montenegro explained that Admissions started the singular, official group in order to ensure that information circulated to new students would be objective. “We want to give the most accurate representation of what Swarthmore is really like,” Montenegro said. “There are a lot of facts and figures up for interpretation, and we don’t want people to misinterpret anything. This way, no one’s getting any false or subjective information.”

This new closed-group method represents a shift from recent years, when upperclassmen could freely join the Facebook pages for the incoming classes, according to Phil Chodrow ’12. Beginning with the class of 2014, Admissions created one official page, and students ran another, where upperclassmen participated. Incoming freshmen were encouraged by Admissions workers to join both groups. “Starting with [the class of] 2015, however, Admissions stopped this encouragement, with the result that many students were unaware of the student-run group,” Chodrow recounted.

Orientation Committee member Marian Firke ’14 cited organization as the main motivation behind creating a singular, official group. “It can get confusing when incoming and admitted students are scattered across several groups, so having everything up and running before anyone was admitted made sure that all of the students would end up in the same group, together. I think the main issue was making sure that there weren’t three or four small groups of 50 admits each,” Firke elaborated.

In Chodrow’s opinion, “This was a very poor move on the part of Admissions. The informal, upperclassmen-incoming freshmen interaction characterizing those student Facebook groups was extremely valuable to me, and to many others in the 2013 and 2014 classes. It was nice to get insight from non-scripted sources, to get to know upperclassmen before arriving on campus, and generally get pumped about Swat in an independent, student-run space.” Chodrow continued, “Admissions has announcements that are appropriately disseminated via Facebook, and so the Admissions page is a great idea,” but that he feels the ideal Facebook arrangement resembles the two-group system of the classes of 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Under both models, upperclassmen provide a constant level of support to incoming freshmen. “I’m not trying to step in too much or be an overwhelming force,” Montenegro explained, “just to give a general level of support, mostly with answering academic questions.”

Montenegro, Firke and their fellow Orientation Committee members respond to queries on the page each day about everything from placement tests to permissible dorm room refrigerator dimensions. “It’s like fighting a hydra,” Firke said. “Every time we answer one question, ten more spring up from where it came from.”

Firke commented, “I feel like the freshmen this year are posting way more questions than we ever did.” She believes that use has gone up because of the guarantee of helpful answers from Orientation Committee members. “People are asking more questions because they have seen that the upperclassmen are very ready to answer them,” she said. This change may not be completely positive, as Firke noted, “A lot of the questions have concerned minutiae (such as bringing curtains, or how to hang things on the walls) that people in my year chose to either figure out for ourselves or else query on Google.”

Besides asking questions, freshmen have debated political issues, shared interests, posted their essays and exchanged letters via a pen-pal system. The group also served as a virtual, all-freshman form of the Ride the Tide, where Early Decision students attempted to convince Regular Decision admits to pick Swarthmore. The group made a difference especially for international students, said Admissions Counselor Ruby Bhattacharya ’11. “I had the chance to meet with our admitted students in Asia and many of them said they decided to attend Swarthmore based on the community they saw in the Facebook group,” she said. “For most international students, the web is their only means of connecting with Swat.”

Taking new friendships even further, some incoming students even engaged in Google+ chats and video conferences with an average of five or six participants. Incoming students such as Natalia Sucher ’16, who participated in the Google+ chats, enjoyed the forum for social interaction provided by the group. “My favorite thing is being able to scope out the social scene and get to already see who my potential friends are,” Sucher explained.

Montenegro, however, cautioned against the high levels of enthusiasm, idealism of the Swarthmore experience, and interaction he sees displayed on the page. “I feel like this year’s class is a lot more into it,” he said. “I love being at Swarthmore and everything about Swarthmore, but it is just another place where you’re going to be working really hard.”

Firke expressed similar concerns about the heavy use of the 2016 Facebook page. She explained, “I worry a little bit about the amount that they are posting, only because it has given me the impression that they are doing very little with their summers aside from sitting at the computer and waiting for Swarthmore.”

Montenegro echoed her sentiments, speaking of enjoying his last summer before college with friends from home instead of from the Facebook page. “Everyone’s really taking to the whole, ‘these are my best friends’ idea, and it’s a little off-putting,” he said.
Firke affirmed, “It’s always nice to get in touch with new people online, particularly if you find you have things in common, but it was my experience that the people I messaged on Facebook before coming to Swarthmore were not the people I ended up being close friends with here.” She worried that the development of friend groups before arrival at Swarthmore could impede new friendships during Orientation Week and beyond, and that those who had not been as active on the page might feel alienated, which Firke saw occur in the 2014 group. “A few people felt that they didn’t ‘fit in’ with the people who were posting the most, and this made them worry unnecessarily that there wouldn’t be a happy niche for them here at Swat,” she said.

Despite differing opinions over how best to conduct and enjoy the Facebook group experience for new students, all agreed that the group served as a helpful resource for incoming freshmen, and that the class of 2016 is certainly enthusiastic. “It’s great to see that the incoming class is so excited to get here,” Firke concluded.

SOPA/PIPA to make Internet a closed marketplace

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by
Emma Waitzman/The Phoenix

Unless you’ve recently embarked on an inexplicable hiatus from the World Wide Web, you will have seen the acronyms “SOPA” and “PIPA” plastered on the Wikipedia masthead, nestled in between memes on Reddit.com, or re-blogged amongst posts on Tumblr. Rallying together nearly every corner of interactive cyberspace in opposition, the proposed legislation (the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act) is being considered by Congress (SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate) in an effort to crack down on Internet piracy. Yet while the ostensible intent of the U.S. government is to give copyright and IP owners a greater capacity to go after foreign sites dedicated to the theft and sale of U.S. materials, the censoring impact these bills will have is self-evident.

SOPA was introduced in the House of Representatives by House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) on October 26, 2011, while PIPA, its Senate counterpart, was presented by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on May 12, 2011. Both bills were put forward in their respective chambers with the support of about a dozen bipartisan co-sponsors who, since the Internet has erupted in seemingly unanimous protest, have lost one to two congressional supporters. Still, both pieces of legislation have thus far stood their ground in Congress, with “Hollywood” backing from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and companies like Nike, NBCUniversal and the NBA.

In fervent resistance and in an effort to notify and galvanize its users to take action, major sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, WordPress and Craigslist staged a “black-out” on Wednesday akin to sit-in protests, while Google censored the logo on its homepage. Even smaller-scale blogs and personal websites have joined in the fray by either posting their criticism of the legislation or completely “blacking-out” their own areas of the Internet in defiance.

If the two bills are indeed passed, this sort of online apocalypse could become indefinite. U.S. corporations and the government will have the unchecked right to seek legal action (without due process) against any website they determine to be either facilitators of or participators in copyright infringement. And while the underlying aim to curtail digital piracy seems to be noble in nature, the power granted to these entities will allow for the termination of any website that a private company (or the government) feels is breaking their copyright policies. This subverts any kind of Constitutionally-reserved right to trial and freedom of speech.

So how does this affect us — a generation of tech-savvy bloggers, Googlers and plain-old Wiki users?

For one thing, it may very well shut down any blogging platform or blog that has even a hint of copyright violation. Since U.S. government agencies and private corporations would have unimpeded discretion in deeming illicit the use of a particular logo, trademark, image, and so on and so forth, the possibility for litigation and subsequent liquidation is increased twentyfold. This means that major social networking sites like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook are at risk. Additionally, sites that might host prospectively infringing content like Vimeo, Etsy and Flickr could also face legal action from any competing companies that could claim promotion of or engagement with copyright infringement. Entire sites could be shut down if any one user chose to violate copyright laws. If that’s the case, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter will be no more.

Even media minor-leaguers like start-up companies and small business might end up hurting if a company felt (however falsely) that they were either a likely challenger for consumer attention or actually functioning as piracy hubs. Moreover, the start-ups that use mediums like Facebook to interact and communicate with a broader audience in order to increase the economic endurance of their operations will suffer significantly.

Working in tandem, SOPA and PIPA would also limit innovation in the online marketplace. Sites similar to Spotify, DropBox and MediaFire would be terminated at their inception simply as potential spaces for online piracy. To think that these bills would have existed in the days of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter is a harrowing thought — what is the Internet without novel endeavors in user interactivity but a vast network of legal restrictions and limited information? To have these bills pass would be to regress decades in terms of high-tech modernization. Legislation such as this prompts us to reevaluate what the Internet’s role even is and whether control of such a chaotic and truly transnational medium is actually feasible.

What, then, is our part in preventing the passage of acts that would severely hinder online free speech and technological creativity as we know it? The answer is what our part has always been as Generation Y Internet users: an aware and active approach in fighting for what we believe is right. Becoming informed and informing others is the first and most crucial step in this undertaking, getting in contact with our congressional representatives and letting our discontent be heard loud and clear is a vital next step. Signing online petitions and utilizing the Internet itself to its global extent is additionally pivotal. Finally, we must remain aware and active.

SOPA and PIPA will not be the first or last attempt by the government and corporations to tangibly challenge a free and open society, but it can be the first and last attempt to bring about widespread online censorship while expecting us to idly stand by.

For more information and to sign a petition urging Congress to vote NO, go to https://blacklist.eff.org.

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