Collegiate ACB is back. Though its name and coders are different, the premise sadly remains the same.
Back when we were freshmen, Collegiate ACB existed as an anonymous forum where college students could dish about fraternity rankings, hot girls and a whole lot of offensive, homophobic, misogynistic bologna on their respective school forums. The content was pathetic and disgusting, but what was worse? We read it. A lot of us read it.
Now back with its signature mean-spiritedness, Collegiate ACB reinstates a venue for Penn students to unleash some of their ugliest tendencies under the veil of anonymity. The Penn board on ACB still serves to rank Greek organizations to the point of having a satirical ranking of vegetables (really? banana peppers are tier 1?). However, Penn’s forum in particular reeks with posts that slut-shame, fat-shame, name names and accuse students of having STDs or abusing drugs and alcohol.
And it looks like we are writing a hell of a lot more than everyone else. More than 250 schools have forums, and the average school board has 245 posts. At press time, Penn had 2,246 individual postings.
Anyone with a beating heart understands that writing these posts is mean, but it might be a whole lot more than mean. Beyond just being a jerk, you could be liable for a big legal headache. You are not as anonymous as you think.
We consulted Vice Provost for Faculty and Henry R. Silverman Law Professor Anita Allen to explain the legal ramifications at play. “[The internet] is not a cowboy frontier where anything goes,” Allen said. “There are many, many structures in place to allow — through the police — private parties to get information about who is sending what messages.”
Names are easily uncovered, and as Allen warned, “This kind of thing could come back to haunt you.” Though ACB is a pretty janky website, according to Allen, writing something anywhere online could be considered publication in a court of law.
Some might be under the impression that they can spew hogwash on ACB because free speech is protected under the First Amendment. Though many of the rude and offensive comments are unfortunately protected in this way, there are instances when statements morph from offensive to actual offenses.
As Allen relayed, when free speech comes into conflict with defamation, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress, harassment or sexual harassment, one has grounds to sue. If you’ve been targeted you could have a case. There is precedent.
In 2007, two Yale Law students filed a lawsuit against the administrator and certain anonymous posters of an online law student forum called AutoAdmit for violation of privacy, defamation and infliction of undue emotional distress. The plaintiffs subpoenaed the internet service providers and uncovered the names of the anonymous posters.
To the sad boys and girls writing these ditties in their dorm rooms, be warned. It probably won’t take more than about two hours to find out who you are.
There is a student movement led by Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) on the rise looking to address both the problems the site poses and the larger culture it represents.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda wrote in an email that this website is “offensive and not reflective of the values of the Penn Community.”
Student leaders are also taking a stance. “It doesn’t live up to our fraternity creed to post on ACB,” College senior and Sigma Alpha Epsilon President Dan Riband said. “We do not feel that we need to validate ourselves through an anonymous website.”
Know that if you’d like to take legal action it might be in your power to do so, but if not, ACB encourages you to directly email the website operators to report posts — a college junior who wished to remain anonymous told us that posts about her were taken down after her friend reached out to ACB on her behalf.
We need to take a second to remember that what we write on the internet could have consequences. Or not be imbeciles. Whatever works.
Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College juniors from New York, N.Y. and Ft. Lauderdale, F.L. respectively. You can email them at email@example.com or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every Wednesday.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.