The Gossip Wars

Ever since kindergarten and elementary school, we were taught to say “if we don’t have anything nice to say (about anyone), don’t say it at all.”

It seems as though the older we get, the more we reject this advice and continue to spew abhorrent remarks about fellow classmates, professors and even friends. We are living in a digital age, where virtual markets, relations and sites are booming, which has ultimately created a haven for a World Wide Web tabloid addiction.

In an effort to feed off of the gossiping trend, various internet gossip sites allow college students to freely and openly rant about peers through anonymous message boards and posts.

While a few of the websites have disintegrated, others have risen up and are spreading like wildfire through college campuses across the nation.

One internet site’s mission statement seeks “to give students a place to vent, rant, and talk to college peers in an environment free from social constraints and about subjects that might otherwise be taboo.”

The site also has a policy of deleting posts that contain deliberately malicious content, use full names in attacks and respond to complaints from users.

While this moderation is a step in the right direction, the site still promotes repugnant gossip, unnecessary conduct and vicious personal attacks.

Essentially, these sites have become the virtual equivalent of the Burn Book from Mean Girls. You’d think that college students would limit their hurtful bashing about friends on private blogs or journals, but on these all too public websites, anyone is fair game. And often the game becomes very hurtful to other students that the gossiper attends school with.

While some see the negative connotations of the site as the only factor keeping the message boards hot, others view these websites as “fun, light-hearted gossip of college life.”

Others have personal experiences with what some call Facebook’s evil twin.

“I felt upset, hurt, mortified, embarrassed, angry and humiliated. I was in complete shock. It’s scary to think that someone thinks so poorly of you or your organization and is courageous enough to actually write about it for others to see. It makes you want to know exactly who wrote it,” said an anonymous Georgia Tech victim of internet gossip.

“Why does someone care so much about you and your life to feel the need to publicize it whether it’s actually true or false? I was completely sick over it…I think you really have to be a coward and insecure to take it to that level,” said the anonymous student.

The anonymous student also had friends under attack on the site. “My best friend is on it, as well as well as an organization I belong to. It’s weird because my best friend saw me so upset over it, and would say the common phrase ‘I know how you feel’, but it wasn’t until she was on it too that it really hit home. She instantly knew exactly how I was feeling and was completely sick as well.”

Since Tech is smaller than many other colleges, the college gossip problem can be seen as pulsating around campus. An acute student population could actually make the drama more apparent, direct and personal.

The anonymous student said, “I think at Tech with such a close knit community it is a really big deal. When [one of the websites] first came out, everyone was reading it. I think its popularity has decreased but people definitely still read it. The sites should definitely shut down. Besides the fact that it is illegal (slander) it has ruined lives. People have killed themselves over stuff written on there and transferred schools. Nothing like that should ever have such an impact on someone’s life.”

Another problem with these sites is that some students take all posts as fact, or might use the Internet to judge fellow students.

“I do think [students] take it too seriously…people take it as the Bible. I’ve had people bring it up in casual conversation as if it were the truth,” the anonymous interviewee said.

A question that is often asked is whether the newer gossip sites are truly more moderated than their predecessors.

“There was never really an explanation for why [the older sites] were taken offline. When some of the newer sites came out, they claimed it was going to be more moderated and that slander would not be accepted, which has been anything but the case. I know numerous people including myself who have followed their procedure of creating an account and requesting comments to be taken down and nothing happened.These were comments about people and organizations that were untrue that are still up there today for you to read. Even asking for comments where my name is mentioned to be taken down has gotten me nowhere,” the anonymous interviewee said.

“Although I think the sites’ popularity has decreased, I do think they will stay popular. I think people are using it too much to base their decisions on people and organizations. As long as people keep logging onto the sites and they continue to get hits, they will stay up,” said the anonymous student.

While some students have been personally victimized on the college gossip sites, other Tech students have seen the consequences from the virtual trash-talking.

“Well, I’ve been on one of the older sites, and there are a lot of posts. So I thought it was kind of a big deal. But I think the newer sites are a bit smaller. There probably isn’t as big of a problem as it was before. There are problems just because a lot of people don’t have anything better to do. And truthfully, a lot of people are on their computer more often, because at Tech, everything is online. You’re always on your computer,” said William Cole, second-year MGT.

“I think that maybe girls take it more seriously than guys do, because when I went on the site, most of the topics on the girls are more hurtful, and they can take that the wrong way. Most of the guy posts is just fraternity stuff, so it’s not as personal,” Cole said.

Unfortunately, both Tech students interviewed agreed that the virtual gossip columns won’t be disappearing any time soon.

Cole said, “I don’t think the sites will ever go away. People will always want to say what they want and get away with it.”

As the internet sites get more and more popular across college campuses, the virtual bashing has become a massive epidemic and almost an addiction for many students.

While many state courts are trying to get these negative sites blocked from schools, many students continue to spread malevolent remarks about classmates. Even though World Wide Web gossip columns may appear to be an “underground” problem at Georgia Tech, it doesn’t change the fact that these sites still run and persist.

All students have the right to speak their minds; however, when it gets to the point that a student’s words intentionally provoke or attack a fellow student, these sites should be questioned by bystanders.