The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday February 6th

Our ‘Burn Book’ mindset

Let’s recall the Burn Book from “Mean Girls.” Damian was too gay to function. Dawn was a fat virgin, and Amber made out with a hot dog. Sure it’s racy, but “Mean Girls” comes close to accurately characterizing our generation’s obsession with anonymity, especially in our delivery of insults.

Most everyone is familiar with CollegeACB — the online gossip forum providing our chatty peers with an outlet for some of their most heinous, outrageous thoughts. It comes complete with threads ranging from “Who is the easiest girl at UNC” to “How to get with a grad student.” Some posts are so raunchy they could make Regina’s Burn Book blush.

It’s a shocking showcase of the dangers of anonymous posting. And, who knows? You (or a future employer) could find out some juicy gossip about yourself.

But it’s not just that website. This fixation with anonymity has been around since the start of the Internet, infiltrating any website that asks surfers for an opinion.

In our world-gone-masked, Facebook users enjoy use of honesty boxes to tell friends “how they really feel.” Dailytarheel.com commenters often critique columns and editorials with pseudonyms.

But here’s my question: If we’re too uncomfortable to sign our names to our opinions, should we really be expressing them?

The Wall Street Journal seems to share my sentiment. They display each commenter’s full name and require a registration process, effectively prohibiting cyber bullies from making ad hominem attacks. But this sort of thing is a rarity, and hard to enforce.

Most websites merely provide the option to flag comments for moderation — which is better than nothing. But moderators still have to find time to review and remove them.

As a columnist, I can appreciate the appeal of anonymity — the ability to say what we want when we want without consequence allures us all. But it’s this shared, carnal desire that makes anonymity on the Web a dangerous choice.

Plato essentially argues in “The Ring of Gyges” that morality comes from accountability. And I’m inclined to agree that without accountability for our words and actions we would all behave like the Mean Girls. That’s just human nature and given that it’s been the same since Plato, it’s not the only thing at fault here.

Students shouldn’t stand for anonymous attacks on our peers — complacency with our friends being ‘personally victimized’ by the Burn Book or by unidentified users of websites like CollegeACB is at fault. Unfortunately for “Gossip Girl,” our identities are a secret we should have to tell. XOXO.

Hinson Neville is a culture critic for the Daily Tar Heel. He is a freshman business major from Roanoke Rapids. Contact him at nevilleh@email.unc.edu.

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