College ACB raises concerns

List of possibly gay students on anonymous message board draws ire of several community members

The College Anonymous Confession Board, a Web site commonly known as College ACB, has recently raised concerns on Grounds.

Even though a number of potentially derogatory posts, such as sorority rankings and racial slurs, have been noted on the site in the past, a recent list of possibly gay students heightened tensions among several University community members, especially those listed on the board.

The College ACB site consists of student-run message boards composed entirely of anonymous posts in which students can both comment and vote on the messages of other posters from their colleges.

“It’s basically just to promote a student controlled space where people can say whatever they want without fear of social backlash,” said Peter Frank, current owner of College ACB and freshman at Weslyean University. Frank said the anonymity allows students to ask questions they might normally be too embarrassed to ask.

“It might be embarrassing to ask your friends like a sex question or a relationship question, whereas if you’re anonymous, it’s not a big deal,” he said.

With a home page for each individual college, the content varies from college to college. At Wesleyan, for instance, the site became a hub for student groups and campus events and was especially useful as a way for people to use information and share updates during the school shootings in May, Frank said. He admitted, however, that mean-spirited comments have been found on some college boards within the site.

“For some schools, it’s ACB; for many schools, it’s just the new JuicyCampus,” Frank explained.

To help monitor boards and yet allow for free expression, Frank said posts are immediately taken down if specific people are mentioned.

“We don’t like to monitor it too much … because it’s a student space and it’s entirely user driven, and I don’t want to stick my hand in and influence discussion in any way,” he said.

Even with Frank’s careful monitoring, though, potentially controversial comments can make their way onto the site. Some University students recently discovered that they were on a list of possibly gay students on the College ACB forum.

Third-year College student Reginald Benbow said that even though he is openly gay, he took offense when he saw his name on the list last week. Moreover, he wondered why anyone would bother to post his name, noting that he is “out and open and it’s on Facebook.”

D’Won Walker, a third-year College student and a straight student on the list, also found the list offensive, but added that he did not take it too seriously, noting that the assertions were “silly.”

Both Benbow and Walker said they hope that Student Council will issue a resolution against the site, with Benbow suggesting that the site should hold students accountable for their comments by requiring them to register their legal names with the site. A student petition against the site to block it from University computers may be helpful as well, he added. Last year, a similar condemnation of JuicyCampus was issued.

“Posting libelous gossip about your fellow students does not promote a community of trust,” he said.

Frank said he also believes blocking the site within the University computer system is a good idea.

“I’m pretty sure a few colleges have blocked it on their level,” he added.

But Dean of Students Allen Groves said these concerns deal with a touchy freedom of speech issue, noting that the University can only block the Web site if it becomes a serious public safety issue.

“Our consistent advice to students has been to stop logging onto the site if they find its content offensive, and if enough students do that, the impact of the site – and its lifespan – will be very limited,” Groves said. “Sites like [ACB] generally price and sell advertising based on the number of visits to the site, so lower student traffic should mean a less viable commercial enterprise for the site’s operators.”

Though ACB brings in revenue, Frank noted that it is less popular than JuicyCampus.

“I’d say it’s around three-quarters the popularity of JuicyCampus,” he said, noting that the site receives about 500,000 visitors daily.

“I would say [College ACB is] not very popular [at the University],” Benbow said. “I mean, I don’t know that many people use it.”

– Katherine Raichlen contributed to this article.

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