On Anonymous Hate and Reductive Discourse

Last week, many Swarthmore students received emails asking them to join the anonymous app, Looped. The emails specifically referenced discourse about the party scene at Swarthmore. At the same time, many anonymous posts were submitted to the comments section of one of our news articles about the current party scene, some of which used hateful language that was in flagrant violation of our comment policy. While we at The Phoenix encourage students to engage with campus issues, we are deeply troubled by the hateful tenor of many of these anonymous comments, both on Looped and in our comment submissions. These commenters exploited their anonymity to express racist, misogynist, ableist, and otherwise prejudiced ideas, and to target specific student groups. 

In light of the flood of anonymous comments, The Phoenix has updated our comment policy to require that all commenters use a real email address when posting. Comments that use a fake email address will not be approved. We also strongly encourage commenters to use their real names. Email addresses are only visible to the comment moderator and not to the public. Your email will not be used by us for any reason other than moderation, and people will still be able to reach us anonymously through our feedback form and can contact us privately through email at editor@swarthmorephoenix.com.

Anonymity itself is not the problem. It can be used for good, especially for people from marginalized groups who do not have space or safety to express their views openly. Especially in this past week, however, anonymity has been utilized by commenters to propagate hateful language. When someone is anonymous, they are not accountable for their words. As is immediately evident by opening any anonymous comment section on the internet, people often adopt hurtful and dehumanizing language under the veil of anonymity. This is not even the first time we’ve encountered this issue at Swarthmore: YikYak, a now-defunct anonymous platform that preceded Looped, was rife with hate speech and threats on campuses across the country, Swarthmore included.

Looped also may pose risks to its users in addition to the problems that anonymous apps often cause on college campuses. Despite its guise of anonymity, it is not truly anonymous. User submissions on Looped, which are linked to users’ college-provided email addresses or mobile phone numbers, are explicitly non-confidential according to Looped’s Terms of Use. Looped also maintains the ability to disseminate submission data for commercial purposes — in other words, hateful and vulgar submissions are connected to users’ real identities and can be sold. The guise of anonymity effectively tricks users into believing that their anonymity is guaranteed when this may not be the case.

We would also like to address that many of the anonymous commenters across platforms ignore that the frats were more than just space where free beer and a dance floor were provided. While commenters have the right to their own views, we would be remiss as a news publication to not provide the relevant context to this campus conversation. As we reported last April, the internal Phi Psi documents leaked to The Phoenix show that Phi Psi had cultivated a culture of toxic masculinity, misogyny, classism, racism, and homophobia. Minutes from Delta Upsilon showed a similar culture. Further, the semester-long Task Force on Student Social Events and Community Standards noted that “[p]atterns of serious misconduct surrounding fraternities are extremely disturbing, and though the fraternities have faced numerous disciplinary actions over the years, significant problems have persisted.” 

Our party scene and campus life need work, but bringing back institutions with an extensive history of policy violations and a documented culture of racism, homophobia, and misogyny is not going to improve them. Conversations that ignore the full context of this troubling history are reductive and harmful. Rather, we should reflect on ways in which we as a community can improve and provide a safer, more welcoming, and more fulfilling party scene for all students on campus. We urge students to have these important conversations about the future of the party scene through open, sincere dialogue, rather than behind the guise of anonymity.

2 comments

  1. 35
    Drew Langan says:

    I’m not sure this piece properly applies the term reductive, but I’ll adopt it as it has been used above.
    The opinions expressed on Swarthmore’s Fraternities in this piece are extraordinarily reductive, including, but not limited to, applying all of the contents of Phi Psi’s minutes and Phi Psi’s behavior to Delta Upsilon with the line “[m]inutes from Delta Upsilon showed a similar culture.”
    More fundamentally, y’all are instructing the Swarthmore community not to reduce the fraternities to places where you can get free beer and a dance floor. That’s a fine commentary – the fraternities were much more than that. But then y’all proceed to reduce the fraternities to the wellspring of all racism, homophobia, and misogyny at the College. Neither comes close to telling the full story of fraternities at Swarthmore, but of course The Phoenix has no interest in telling that story.

  2. 32
    DU '16 says:

    A couple of things – first, I’m in no way defending the minutes. They were extremely disrespectful to many people, no question. I think that their purpose (rather, lack of purpose) is misunderstood, but that doesn’t make them better. That’s just to say, less than half the brothers probably read the minutes any given week and they’re meant to be ridiculous. They really shouldn’t exist, but please understand that that is not our personal handbook. I’m still embarrassed by the DU minutes release, I’m not embarrassed by the Phi Psi minutes because that is a totally separate organization, but hope that they’re embarrassed as well.

    Now, this article seems less like a thoughtful message on hate and more a chance to take a shot at the fraternities while justifying additional future censorship. The guise of anonymity worked to the anti-frat movement’s benefit, if you’ll recall, and now that students and alumni are contesting your bogus articles, anonymity is being exploited? I’m sure you guys have never had racist/misogynist comments sent in before, right? Seems like the timing is awfully convenient to come to this conclusion, since you’re desperately trying to defend what sounds like a non-existent party scene (largely due to lack of frats) with these unpopular articles that get ripped in the comments section week after week. Anonymous comments have been allowed on Phoenix articles for as long as I can remember, but now that it’s more evident than ever that these comments don’t play into your agenda, they’re no good? Did you notice which ones were getting upvotes and which ones had 0? No?

    The shots at the frats are unnecessary, and your coverage of the frats dating back to last year has been abysmal. The light they’ve been portrayed in has been wholly unfair throughout. You had minutes fall into your hands and now think you guys are some investigative machine – you’re not. You wrote an article about pooping on campus and one about peeing in Willets in the same week! You guys denounced Halloween because of capitalism. You suggested that since men can show their nipples and women can’t, rampant nudity should exist in the US. All in the past few weeks. In short, you guys are a joke, and try to get clicks by going after the frats. Your agenda appears to be one of turning Swarthmore into a liberal utopia where everyone is a delirious, 18 year old political activist who is out to change the world. And to be fair, you’re advancing this pretty rapidly as it seems most people who like more “normal” things are interested in leaving without consistent, decent parties to attend. Well played!

    The fact that your editorial board is putting their name behind this sham of a message should be alarming to most people. Maybe consider listening to the comments and write an article about what’s wrong with the party scene and give suggestions to fix it next week instead of your normal anti-frat, “the parties aren’t bad,” nonsense? I know that may be tough, since it’s clear as crystal that no one on this editorial board knows jack about the party scene. But responding by further censoring legitimate student concerns and justifying it with this? Absurd, and you guys should be ashamed. Have some thick skin, own your unpopular opinions. Don’t censor those who contest you and blame it on sexist and misogynistic comments. You guys are so out of touch from the majority of Swarthmore students and alumni, I think most would agree with that.

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