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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Column: Engage with social media responsibly to keep GW’s online community positive

Editor’s note: This post was originally published Dec. 5, 2022. The post was mistakenly removed due to a technical error.

From GW-themed affirmations like “‘Foggy Bottom’ is not an embarrassing name” and “I do not go to school with future war criminals” to stories about where to get “free stuff” on campus and the latest Student Association drama, the @gwuaffirmations Instagram account had a grip on me before I even applied to college last December. And judging by the thousands of people who follow @gwuaffirmations and other student-run accounts about GW, these personal yet glamorously popular forums can have an intoxicating effect on

Social media is an easy, quick and detached way to socialize in what can otherwise feel like a disconnected student body, and @gwuaffirmations’ blend of anonymous, quirky humor with an insider student perspective is an indispensable form of connection between students. These unnamed peers turned content creators deliver frequent takes on campus drama, post ironic memes about student life and seek advice about professors and classes. Dozens of these community-centric accounts exist within student social media circles – @gwubirds, @gwurats and @gwucats post pictures of cute animals on campus, and others like @gwstudent37 and @pitbullatgw post satirical made-up roommate stories and edited photos of Pitbull around Foggy Bottom, respectively.

But there’s a dark side to these anonymous accounts. @gwu.shaderoom, which emerged at the start of this semester, posts unfiltered anonymous screenshots of submissions to a Google Form that poses rotating prompts like “what’s on your mind?” and “anonymously spill the tea.” The posts range from silly – “who brought their toddler to pelham brunch” – to crude – “Madison 7th floor boys are virgins.” And of course, my personal favorite – “yo everyone on the hatchet is either the chillest person ever or totally bat **** crazy.”

The more you scroll through @gwu.shaderoom, the more racist, homophobic and misogynistic their posts become, as does the comments section. A horrific number of the posts include bigoted and or sexual remarks like the ones above, directly referring to other students by name and residence hall. The account proves that this type of content is popular – in just three short months, it’s garnered more than 2,200 followers.

As a woman, the personal and sexual comments on the account make me uncomfortable on campus. Any stranger on the street could be the one behind the post. The anonymous aspect of these posts don’t facilitate discussion about sensitive topics. It simply encourages hate and creates an unsafe campus for marginalized students.

These posts also have real consequences. Last spring, then-Student Association Vice President Kate Carpenter backed out of her race for SA president in part because of intense cyberbullying on the anonymous social media app “Jeti.” @gwu.shaderoom proves that that incident wasn’t isolated – accounts with no other purpose except to stimulate drama and controversy are popular.

It has become second nature to vent our frustrations through online spaces without regard for how doing so can hurt others – overexposure to social media content during the COVID-19 pandemic has blurred our sense of morality online. When those interactions evolve from frustration into targeted hate, and the nature of anonymity removes accountability, the result is distrust and hostility between students. It’s no fun anymore when we’re afraid to even laugh too loudly in public for fear of a nasty @gwu.shaderoom post referring to us by name.

Rather than wait for officials to step in and discipline students for individual reports of harassment, we must change our own behavior, hold ourselves accountable and think critically about how we engage with social media. Officials’ decision to discipline individual account owners wouldn’t keep students from posting and interacting with hateful content in the first place, and many GW-related social media accounts create space for students to interact in ways officials simply can’t – and shouldn’t – control. Change must come from students, not officials’ list of rules and regulations.

Both account administrators and their followers need to exercise personal responsibility. An innate part of the value of these accounts is their ability to gather the honest opinions of students. But constructive honesty about campus culture – professors, teachers, opinions on campus issues – is not the same as cruelty targeting people based on their identities.

Our generation has enough knowledge about social media algorithms to understand the power of our every online interaction. Understanding what we’re seeking to get out of our time on social media can help guide how we engage with these accounts. When we think about our interactions on social media as part of the greater context they’re contributing to and really examine the messages we’re spreading, it’s easier to recognize that what seemed like a lighthearted post was actually a sign of a much bigger problem. All that’s required for a shift in behavior is that we hold ourselves and our social circles accountable for not spreading hate – unfollow accounts you no longer agree with, or call out hateful posts when you see them.

Positive social media engagement at GW is more than possible. Allowing @gwu.shaderoom to dismantle the entire web of good-natured accounts into an anarchic cesspool for hate is a disservice to our community.

Those who run these accounts and those who follow them have a responsibility to use online anonymity for good, not to abuse the privileges afforded to us by living in a digital age. Students can and should choose to continue to create community and advance positivity rather than tear it down with a tap of a screen.

Terra Pilch-Bisson, a freshman majoring in American Studies, is an opinions writer.

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