March 31, 2010

The New Gossip Girl: College ACB

Print More

Imagine a packed frat house on a Saturday night; the cluttered humanity coalesced by an opaque, undergirded promise of excitement. Dimmed lights dance through the stuffy rabble, skimming the edges of a brick-pasted basement.A procession of horrified shrieks interrupts. Miley Cyrus cuts out. Ambient echoings cease. Repeated wails batter the walls.And then you see it or rather, her, stumble into a lonely opening. Eyeliner, mixed with tears and snot, splashing through nose, mouth and hair; heels long abandoned, broken; silver sequin dress split down the seam; underwear beginning to show …You don’t want to look — but you can’t look away, either.This feeling seems an apt analogy for student sentiment — not only at Cornell, but also at more than 500 other universities — towards, the College Anonymous Confession Board.Nearly everyone seems horrified by the site, which features rankings of “ugliest girls on campus,” the “best fraternit[ies]” and, most importantly, “The best places to find turds on campus.”Indignant students such as OneCornell’s Ginny Johnson ’12 have termed College ACB a “dumping ground for the 18- to 24-year-old’s most brutal gossip.” Morgan Bookheimer ’13 called it a “childish forum for insecure freshman.”Time magazine’s Sophia Yan accurately labeled its posts “suffused with racism, sexism and homophobia.”Even — ironically — some of websites’ own anonymous users have disparaged College ACB as a tool for “lies and slander to trash someone behind their back.”Yet the website, according to an online Time magazine report, continues to grow — with “over half a million page views daily … for some of the more popular pages.”Its popularity lies in the same human impulse that prevents us from looking away when we see that drunk girl running through the frat house. It’s avowedly shameful and wrong, but that comprises its appeal.And it shares with the frat house scene the anonymity of being in the crowd.In what NBCConnecticut called the “2010 version of the bathroom wall,” College ACB allows college students nationwide to post about whatever — or whomever — they desire.Professors are beginning to discuss the social impacts of sites such as College ACB  —  and not all of them are necessarily negative.“Services like College ACB — and Juicy Campus before that — and the ubiquitous presence of cellphone cameras are bringing us closer to the “Transparent Society’…[where] ‘everyone knows everything about everyone,’” Georgetown Prof. Michael Nelson, communications, said.Yet he added that the website made our culture “tolerant as a result” and, therefore, “more inclined and able to ‘watch out’ for each other, in much the same way that nosy neighbors did in American small towns a century ago.”Still, most are not readily inclined to view College ACB as a potential way to increase tolerance.Efforts at other universities have been launched to rid their schools of College ACB’s ugly residue.Jared Sichel, an opinion writer for Tulane University’s Hullabaloo, wrote that “Tulane’s administration should support the current student movement to prevent anyone from accessessing College ACB [from] Tulane’s network.”Sichel argued for this by comparing College ACB to a “microphone on the … quad in which speakers and listeners are all somehow anonymous. Anyone can use the microphone to put-down other students. Personal vendettas are played out through the microphone and many listeners eventually play the role of speakers.” Adding a dramatic rhetorical question, Sichel continued, “Would there be any opposition … to dismantling the microphone and speakers?”Similarly motivated, Washington and Lee University asked College ACB to take down all threads related to their university. According to Time magazine, College ACB owner and operator Peter Frank, a sophomore at Wesleyan University, refused.“The law is on [Frank’s] side,” Time reported, citing the “Communications Decency Act of 1996” which purportedly “shields website operators from liability for user-generated content.”And, not all students — even those who oppose College ACB — believe that banning it on college campuses is the right thing to do.“Censoring … College ACB is nothing more than a band-aid solution to the much bigger problem of gossip-mongering,” wrote Alissa Scheller in American University’s newspaper, the A.U. Examiner.Bookheimer agreed, saying that blocking access to the site would “definitely” be a violation of free speech.Still, other options remain — such as the one put forth by PanHellenic Council President Norah Allen ’11 — for those interested in seeing College ACB fall by the wayside. At a recent meeting, Allen encouraged students to boycott College ACB, suggesting a “formal resolution” to “make a pledge to not look at it.”The emergence of College ACB may come as a disappointment to those who celebrated the demise of, which Johnson reported was shut down because of student boycott.Following Allen, Executive Vice President Virginia Tyrone ’12 said Juicy Campus’ demise could provide the blueprint for eradicating College ACB. “The fact that people stopped reading [Juicy Campus] … drove it out of business.”But Frank contends his website is different than Juicy Campus, and in a February  press release he stated that it aims to reach a “higher level of discourse.”             The website pledges to “build community” through discussions ranging from “keg parties to concern about course selection.”  To that end, the website is divided into four categories: Advice, Sex, Issues and Academics.Yet, whereas there are 52 pages of posts on the site’s Cornell homepage, there are only eights posts on the Academics page — which somehow includes one about NBA player Amare Stoudamire and whether, “Turkey Bacon … tastes like real bacon, but has no fat in it.”  RLD

Original Author: Jeff Stein