Editorial | Not so hot
Students have had reasonable concerns about the new powlr.com, but this time, it’s not the administration’s job to respond
October 20, 2013, 7:28 pm · Updated October 20, 2013, 11:31 pm·
Recently, a new site — partyfunder.com — made a splash in the Penn community. The site lets students compare pictures of Penn athletes — two images come up on the screen, and the user can “pick” one of them by clicking.
Despite being met with criticism, it has since graduated from comparing just athletes or students at Penn. Now, the updated powlr.com is open to compare members of any student body, though the overwhelming percentage of pictures in its database are of Penn students, suggesting the founders have some connection to Penn.
The comparison game isn’t new. But what’s unique about this is how its creators are trying to spin it. While they are fully aware that this could be “another sleazy ‘hot-or-not’ game,” they seem to doubt it’ll happen.
Citing a couple of studies, the founders claim that they just want to allow students to see other students in an “unbiased” manner and hope people “will control their carnal instincts to judge based solely on looks.”
Maybe it’s our fault, but we’re not exactly sure how you’re supposed to make unbiased judgments not based on looks from one photo, usually a headshot. That’s an impressive skill we’d like to learn.
The founders’ hope, allegedly, is to compare student bodies from different schools. That isn’t explained in depth, but the implication is that anyone on the site could try to ascertain which university has happier students. Think — all that from a game that used to have just Penn athletes.
You have to hand it to them — they’re certainly familiar with the term plausible deniability. And it takes those lawyer instincts to color posting pictures of “drunken underage students” as a positive aspect of the site.
In fairness, we’re betting the creators are being at least a bit facetious. But there’s something problematic in trying to justify the game, even sarcastically. While you shouldn’t create a virtual hot-or-not game, if you do, you should at least acknowledge that’s what you’re doing — not normalize it in any sense.
That said, it’s not all on the creators of the game. Altogether, students — both those who detest the game and those who find it fun — have spent hours on the site.
If you dislike the site, ignore it — immature games tend to be short-lived fads, and if you don’t add fuel to the fire, they’ll die out. For those who spend hours on the site because it’s fun, we don’t know where you find the time — is there really nothing better to do?
But while all games take players, this one leans very heavily on participation. How did the site get all the photos of students? It relied on users giving the website access to their Facebook profiles, and thereby all their friends photos.
While we can say it’s probably not a good idea to play the game online, it’s worse to actually contribute to it. We know you’re probably not close with a lot of your Facebook friends, but it’s still breaking some amount of trust in giving others access to their profile. We might all be aware that photos on Facebook are public, we just usually don’t imagine our friends will be part of publicizing them.
One athlete who recently wrote a column in The Daily Pennsylvanian suggested that the University or Penn Athletics should get involved to try to shut down the site. So far neither has. While we don’t condone the game, we don’t think they should get involved.
This comes down to free speech. While the game is certainly sleazy, as far as we can tell it hasn’t broken any laws — even the pictures have been lawfully obtained. Penn as a legal institution shouldn’t — and for the most part doesn’t — try to enjoin forms of expression, even ones we might find to be distasteful.
And while we agree that the administration should protect its students and athletes, we don’t think that responsibility encapsulates demanding that a sophomoric game be abolished.
Penn can help us with a lot of things, but from the game’s creation to its perpetuation, this one’s on us.