Please note: This article was originally published on the original version of The New Idealist online in August 2013 before being added to this newly created site in July 2015.
As a University student vaguely aware of ‘Spotted’ before investigation, my first impression was that of a crude, pointless and time-wasting internet site. I was first told about it by a fellow student, who viewed it both for procrastination and comedic (but harmless) purposes. I concluded that if someone used the website with the most honourable of intentions, the anonymity element would render those intentions redundant; if used with nothing but ‘banter’ in mind, I deduced that there must surely be better ways to spend your University hours. On closer investigation, these perceptions haven’t changed, but added to them are concerns that Spotted has the potential to be a euphemistic tool for cruel judgements passed on complete strangers, whether malice was intended or not.
Taking a cursory look at my own University’s Spotted page (http://tinyurl.com/oea3kur), it’s plain that the website can often be harmless; “To the stunning blue eyed and brunette girl next to me on the Penzance train from Manchester. Can I get you a cup of tea next time the catering trolley comes by please?” However, examples like these should never be justification for the often vitriolic abuse that is spouted on various Spotted pages. In The Huffington Post, Sarah Aston highlights various examples of cruel sexism and racism on Spotted pages (http://tinyurl.com/ppvgdjv), with a worrying amount of Facebook ‘likes’ for each comment. Such abuse would not be tolerated in the workplace or in public domains, yet it is clear to see that such ‘laddish banter’ is free to spread on the website, as it is not officially deemed unacceptable.
What is not taken into account (or perhaps it deliberately is considered) when such bullying takes place is the victims. That they may be oblivious does not excuse or justify the irrational cruelty aimed at them. If they are aware, then they are made to feel vulnerable and stressed. The worst thing is that the perpetrators have no way of knowing either way if their victim is aware or not, potentially leading to a vicious cycle. When reading a ‘pro-Spotted’ article from my own University’s student newspaper The Mancunion, the arguments for retaining it are hardly strong; “there is something liberating about the anonymity Spotted grants its posters”. Tom Danaher, writer of the aforementioned article, seems to downplay the worst excesses of the page by noting “The very worst stuff I found were juvenile and shallow expressions of lad culture, hardly anything worth acknowledging” and “Granted, there is the issue of privacy violations from people’s pictures being uploaded without their consent… this seems almost inconsequential”. His arguments certainly do not hold when reading the highly offensive comments highlighted in Sarah Aston’s article.
If ‘Spotted’ pages are to remain, the bare minimum requirement needed is comment moderation. If someone took the time and effort to set up such a website in the first place, surely it is not beyond their capabilities to highlight and remove offensive comments? Detractors will argue as to where the line should be drawn, but surely comments such as “think about this mathematical statistic: 85 percent of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds” found in the Aston article are not deemed acceptable or ‘a grey area’.
Alex Goldhill, author of the anti-Spotted article from The Mancunion, makes a good point for those arguing that it is just a harmless procrastination platform; “If you’re going to make the effort of going to the library, would it be too unreasonable to suggest spending the time doing something that may actually contribute towards your degree?” It is up to students how they may wish to spend their time at University, but it has to be a prerequisite for others to monitor and regulate what they say on potentially harmful social media outlets such as ‘Spotted’. ‘Laddish banter’ is not an acceptable euphemism for bullying and malice.
By Benjamin Fearn, BA English Language student at the University of Manchester
University of Manchester Spotted page: http://tinyurl.com/oea3kur
Sarah Aston article: http://tinyurl.com/ppvgdjv
Tom Danaher and Alex Goldhill articles, The Mancunion: http://tinyurl.com/noegt9d
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