My knickers are just getting bunched up all over the place lately. Last week I came across a story about a website where anyone can anonymously post any kind of gossip about anyone else. Here are a few excerpts:
A Web site that invites people to anonymously post gossip about each other is creating problems at (a local high school).
In the past week, students have used the site to bully, post compromising photos of their rivals and spread rumors about other kids’ supposed sexual experiences, abortions, eating disorders, diseases and drug use. Many of the messages have been viewed thousands of times.
At least two students who have been the subject of the gossip mill are afraid to go to school anymore.
“We’ve given people a forum to say what they want to say,” said Elizabeth Bloch, 25, one of the founders of the company that runs the Web site. “It’s not up for us to censor them. If a user thinks some piece of information — however nasty or … embarrassing, is true — that’s their prerogative to let the world know about it.”
The site was created in June in Wilmington, N.C., by four friends who enjoyed gossip and online social networking, Bloch said.
The friends were working part-time jobs, trying to make ends meet, when they came up with the idea to start a Web site to let users post gossip-ridden profiles of other people, she said.
Their site has no legal or ethical responsibility to protect kids by censoring gossip, said Bloch, who said she graduated in 2005 from State University of New York at Albany with a communications degree.
The site also is about teaching responsibility, Bloch said. If enough users complain about a piece of gossip and label it “BS” or “not gossip,” it will eventually be taken down, she said.
However, the site’s staff — the founders and their intern — will not remove gossip just because it may be a lie or hurtful, she said. It’s a way of keeping the subject of the gossip in line with community standards of social behavior, she said.
“If it’s not a lie, there has to be some sort of accountability in that person’s life,” Bloch said.
I’m not even sure where to start. First of all, I will concede that high school students all over the world have been engaging in harmful gossip and rumor mongering forever, and since the birth of the internet they’ve been using personal web pages, sites like myspace, and other forums to help spread it around. Obviously, this is not a novel idea. But to have a site with the specific purpose of providing a forum for any emotionally disturbed adolescent or other amoral psychopath to say all kinds of hurtful, damaging crap without any proof or evidence of its validity, and with no one to have to take responsibility or answer for it just seems so beyond wrong.
In a radio interview Bloch argues that gossip has been around since mankind began talking, and that it’s an inevitable part of life that serves a vitally important purpose in our society—to bring out the truth. But she admits that there’s no real way of knowing if something posted is true or not. The only “safeguard” the website has in place is a feature where readers can vote if they think something is “BS”. Apparently, if enough people vote that it isn’t true, then the post will be removed. Can anyone possibly honestly believe this is a reliable way of determining truth? Let’s just put it to a vote?
And I love how she’s taken it upon herself to bring some accountability to all who might possibly be rightfully accused. I can see the testimonials pouring in now. “I’m so grateful to Ms. Bloch and her website that listed all of my sexual exploits for all the world to see. It made me realize that I am indeed a slut, and now I’m getting the help I need for my sexual addiction.” She’s really providing a service, you see.
The local school district has vowed to take disciplinary action against any student it can prove has posted harmful gossip on the site, but there is the question of the legality of the school board trying to police the activity of students off campus during non-school hours, not to mention the trouble of trying to identify the anonymous sources. School officials are expressing frustration over not being able to better protect their students. They’re urging parents to monitor their children’s computer usage to make sure they aren’t participating in this kind of harmful behavior. The school district’s technology director said, “If you don’t supervise your children, you don’t know what they are doing. It’s not that they are bad kids, but kids make bad choices sometimes.”
I would say that’s a little generous considering the kind of content being posted:
Some students have used the gossip site to rate each others’ performance in bed, call each other derogatory names and list sex acts individual students allegedly participated in. They question others’ sexuality, post unflattering pictures and ridicule others’ physical handicaps.
But Bloch does not seem at all concerned about the kind of damage the gossip, whether it be truth or fiction, causes.
Bloch said she wasn’t qualified to discuss how things said on her Web site might affect teens struggling with self-esteem issues. No one has ever posted negative gossip about her online, she said.
Well, gee, that makes sense. And my favorite quote of the article:
She said she’s read many of the comments (the high school) students have written about each other in postings called “g-strings.”
“One of the coolest things is that these users speak really intelligently,” she said. “There is some stuff that is not great, and some stuff that is really well written.”
Baaaaaaahhhh! I don’t know what else to say. I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment and free speech and all that good stuff. Talking about censorship in any form is a very slippery slope indeed, but does that mean that stuff like this is OK? Is it truly a necessary evil as a byproduct of preserving these invaluable rights? Can’t we do something?
And just so we don’t have to end on a completely depressing note, madhousewife, this is for you.