Opinion

Anonymity cramps small-campus culture

By Keith MacArtney '13

March 7, 2013

A dark cloud has fallen over our Hill—the cloud of anonymity.  Recent advances in our digital technology now allow Hamilton students to anonymously post secrets, compliments and even personal attacks.  Some of the latest digital forums behind which we hide include the Facebook pages Hamilton Secrets and Hamilton Compliments.  Another, which is directly instituted by the College, is Campus Safety’s TipNow reporting system.  Each of these anonymous digital forums, which our community so readily uses and “likes,” threatens the sanctity of individuality and interpersonal communication in a way that seems counterproductive for what should be a small, tight-knit group of driven undergrads.

Hamilton Compliments first hit the web on Nov. 15, 2012 and now has almost 1,400 followers just four months later.  This forum allows users to submit compliments to members of the Hamilton community via message, then the administrator of the page posts them on the public page at his or her discretion.  While this is a positive idea that allows us to brighten up someone’s day with a nice comment, I do not understand why this must be done anonymously.  Giving a compliment in person is bound to boost the receiver’s confidence in a much more profound way than an anonymous digital message could ever achieve.  In reality, the public nature of the forum has turned it into a popularity contest—a concept that seems counterproductive to the original intent of the page.

A similar Facebook page, Hamilton Secrets, launched on Jan. 9, 2013 and has quickly gained over 400 followers this semester.  Through this page, users can anonymously e-mail or message their secrets for the administrator to post for the world’s reading pleasure.  This page is intended to give those who have a secret to openly admit it for public consumption without revealing their name.  The page, much like its friend Hamilton Compliments, has drifted away from its initial goals. The page is now used to publicize negative sentiments against social groups and even individuals on the Hill.  Instead of providing people a seemingly secure method for admitting secrets, it has become a negative forum in which Hamiltonians are directly against each other, yet again endangering the Hamilton social community.

Last year, Campus Safety launched TipNow, a system that allows students to anonymously report disruptive campus activities. This system allows members of our community to report the location of disruptive behavior via SMS text message, e-mail or voicemail to the Campus Safety officers.  TipNow protects the identity of the sender and allows Campus Safety to target students.  While anyone should feel entirely comfortable calling for the aid of Campus Safety in dangerous situations, there is no reason that we, as adults, should hesitate to speak with our peers directly before sending an anonymous call about petty problems.

Often times, these TipNow complaints lead to disciplinary action against the students involved in the disruptive behavior.  The main problem with this system of anonymity is that it creates an unhealthy environment in which students work against other students and against the original intent of Campus Safety.

Here at The Spectator, we are constantly asked to publish anonymous articles and quotes—a request that we instantly reject.  This is due to our strong belief that Hamiltonians should always take credit and responsibility for what they write and say.  The same policy that The Spectator uses  against anonymity should extend to whatever we write and say, no matter whether via digital networks or through campus media.

I am not trying to say that anonymity plagues our community to the extent where its presence as is threatens the end of Hamilton as we know it.  In fact, there are many instances in which a little secrecy is beneficial.

I am, however, requesting that we work as a community to build up the confidence to speak to each other directly.   A large draw to Hamilton College is its small size, an attribute that should theoretically protect us from falling into a cloud of anonymity.  In at least these three instances—Hamilton Compliments, Hamilton Secrets and TipNow—anonymity has managed to spark a very negative polarization within our community.

I strongly encourage you to work against this developing blight allowed by anonymity.  Fight your own fights.  Feel open to sharing your secrets.  And, most of all, compliment each other directly.  Interpersonal interaction is essential to our development as individuals and as a community.  Please quit hiding behind this dark cloak of digital anonymity.

return to previous page