The internet can be an extremely educational playground when used appropriately. However, as in the second grade, there are bullies just waiting to steal your lunch money and walk all over you.
The latest example of this is from a site autoadmit.com which made NPR headlines in this article about the slandering of female law students at Yale. The site labels itself as “The most prestigious college discussion board in the world.” which it proudly stamps at the top of its homepage. I had never heard of the site before listening to the story so I decided to check it out. My first reaction to the initial presentation of the site was positive. I liked the layout, it’s not the prettiest and definitely not the easiest to navigate, but that in itself can be a quality for a discussion board such as this.
I figured that since the site wasn’t the most user-friendly, the comments might actually be viable and worth my time as a reader… a quick search proved me wrong. Of course being a student at The University of Cincinnati I immediately search Cincinnati to see what results are returned. I find a thread discussing why UC is such a rotten school that is only considered a backup school for local Ohio residents and that no one can understand how UC receives funding when average SAT scores are so low. It is true; UC was considered a backup school for many a few years ago, but not so much anymore, and only in certain fields (this is not going to turn into a post defending my university… but it was rather frustrating getting through that thread).
Back to the original story. Two females from Yale are suing > $200K for comments made about them on the AutoAdmit discussion boards which they fear has influenced possible employers to not pursue them for open positions. There is a board on this site where apparently local students talk about these girls in very derogatory terms, talking about what they wear and what they do before and after class. Comments make up facts about the girls having certain diseases or preferences… and when you search their name on Google, guess what shows up?
AutoAdmit refuses to moderate these comments with concern commenting, “deleting posts is a slippery slope that could lead to broad censorship”. According to present day, internet law, website owners are not liable for comments users make on their site. The poster themselves can be held liable, but herein lies the issue. The site has anonymous posting enabled, which is a serious mistake. With the internet being so open and possibly dangerous in this present day, I am a firm believer that identification is a necessity. I’m not saying Bush needs to be sent daily emails with your cookies and history (which I’m sure he would be very happy to sign a bill putting that into play) but I’m saying that when it comes to your comments, your discussion, only cowards hide their faces… and there are many cowards out there. If this discussion board had a mandatory log in feature, this issue could be dealt with in a professional fashion.
I know people can be more honest when from an anonymous face when dealing with the honest opinions about a university they might attend, but as long as you don’t use a self-identifying alias you should have nothing to worry about. If you threaten someone, your information is then compromised through the terms and conditions of the board to the proper authority. No one would have to know who you are just from reading your posts.
I personally have never had a problem with my identification online… however, I see this as a very large issue in the very near future. Web admins need to start taking responsibility for their sites content and the safety of their users. I am against censorship, however, as made evident by AutoAdmit, a level of read-only moderation is crucial.
[edit: yes i am aware i have anonymous comments enabled on my blog… maybe if commenting ever takes off on this blog i’ll rethink my security settings, but until then….]