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There’s a new social media obsession on campus

And it’s a haven for racist, sexist trolls


 

Facebook. Twitter. MSN. Google Plus. There’s no shortage of places for students to chat, opine, or procrastinate during finals. Yet there’s a new digital obsession spreading across Canadian campuses. It’s called OMG and it’s simple. Students submit short “Oh My Gods” about anything. Then, they’re posted to the site.

As a Waterloo student who found myself distracted by OMGUW far too often in December, I got thinking about what makes it so hard to look away. I wanted to know what makes it so enticing that it has spread from Waterloo to Guelph, Saskatchewan and Toronto, with tens of thousands of views.

To answer the question, I asked what makes the site different. After all, every successful social networking site offers something unique. Facebook is where you can keep in touch with old friends and archive drunken pictures of yourself. Google Plus is kind of the same thing, but circles reduce the likelihood that your grandmother will see your embarrassing photos. Twitter is a place where you can proclaim self-indulgent tidbits about what you’re thinking, as if anyone cares.

What OMG offers that all these other sites don’t is simple: anonymity in the crowd.

In fact, it’s less like Twitter or Facebook and more like the scribbles you might see on the bathroom stall. People comment. Others reply. But no one needs to show their face, sign their name or defend their opinion.

Sure, there have been plenty of cases over the years of students posting dumb stuff on social media, ranging from nursing students posing for pictures with a placenta, to TAs publicly complaining about how dumb their students are. But on OMG, you don’t have to worry about your employer or thesis adviser stumbling across inappropriate pictures or controversial words.

Naturally, this means many of the opinions expressed on OMG, especially in the comments section, can fall victim to the same type of lowlife mentality one might see on washroom stalls.

Although common OMG themes are benign—including students asking for advice on course selections, complaining about a nasty exam or rude students who were talking throughout a lecture—certain topics, like gender, race, and the engineering faculty, are minefields.

Consider how one OMG user unsympathetically responded to a woman who was harassed at a campus club. “Going to [the club] and you get your butt grabbed by someone on a crowded dance floor? Boo hooo, what did you expect? Are you surprised and upset? Shouldn’t be,” it reads. “…You are probably intoxicated too and should learn what happens when you go out to a club.”

That’s an attitude reminiscent of the Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti’s ignorant comment at York University last year, when he said that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” That, of course, led to the worldwide SlutWalk movement.

Still, with the anonymity of OMGUW, more ignoramuses agreed with the original sexist poster. More than 80 comments flooded the post. A provocateur replied: “If you don’t want your ass grabbed at a sleazy drunken atmosphere, either come with some protection (as in, males), dress less openly, or accept that it comes with the territory.” Another cringe-worthy sexist poster wrote: “so don’t go out to a skank club and expect not to be assumed to be a skank.??sure, it’s a free country, go where you like. ??but don’t walk into a grocery store and be offended when someone offers you groceries.”

Less provocative, but still hotly debated, are the faculty-bashing OMGs. One OMG poster complained about how, “some engineers talk down on you the second they find out you’re in a different program. Please stop treating me like a toddler.”

This type of thread (yes, there are a few), usually devolves, with engineers suggesting they’re the only faculty that does any homework, to which arts students say engineers have no social skills, to which engineers respond that arts students will end up flipping hamburgers after graduation.

And if the sexism and faculty-hate wasn’t enough, OMG is also subject to that basic law of the web that people feel comfortable making racist jokes wherever they can comment anonymously.

“I feel kinda racist. I just made two asian friends. One was on purpose, and the other one was because I thought I was talking to the first one,” posted someone.

Did that draw the poster some laughs? Maybe. But it’s hurtful. That’s why they wouldn’t dare say it using their real name, where it could follow them to a job interview or grad school application.

But on OMGUW, they don’t have to worry.

And with controversy like that, it’s hard to look away.


 

There’s a new social media obsession on campus

  1. So essentially, it’s like reddit and 4chan?

  2. I think you haven’t spent that much time on OMGUW, and that this article is unjustly biased. You’re completely ignoring all the helpful people on this site. Regarding the positive side of this site, you wrote one sentence: “Although common OMG themes are benign—including students asking for advice on course selections, complaining about a nasty exam or rude students who were talking throughout a lecture—certain topics, like gender, race, and the engineering faculty, are minefields.” and you couldn’t even devote the entire sentence to it. For every troll you talked about, there’s a person who tries to offer advice or support to people who bring their problems to the site.
    Many students have issues with classes, coop, their social life, etc. and there are quite a few commentors who will help point the students to where they need to go for professional help. Some of them even offer to meet with them face-to-face so they can help further. One poster was upset that they wanted to go to the gym to work out, but that they felt uncomfortable with it since they were so overweight and didn’t know what to do. Then someone told them to meet them at the gym next time and they’d help with their exercises. That’s just one example, and I haven’t even mentioned the people who frequent the chatroom on OMGUW.
    You know what else you forgot to mention? There’s an entire section of the site where students can write ILUs (I love you). They post stuff like loving cookies, fresh snow, no snow, kind professors and so much more. But I suppose none of that is interesting enough to make it into your sensationalist article is it?
    OMGUW is no more filled with hate, racist or sexism than other forms of social media, or even real life.

    • I agree. There’s a lot more to OMGUW than simply the bad things mentioned in the article Hate tends to stand out, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is.

      Your last sentence definitely hit home. I think Scott missed a lot of the good on OMGUW in this article.

    • Actually I read OMGUW everyday and I NEVER comment. And this article is ridiculously exact about the site. If I had to judge UW students on the basis of that site I would believe them all to be ignorant racist, sexist people. Thankfully, I am a UW student and know better. The MC’s section is nicer and generally filled with less rude comments but the main OMGUW forum is filled with comments made by the same few internet “trolls” who it would seem have nothing better to do than post on this site.

  3. I made it!

  4. “What OMG offers that all these other sites don’t is simple: anonymity in the crowd.”

    I disagree with this statement.

    Reddit offers users the ability to create accounts without verifying e-mail addresses to those specific accounts, often allowing users to make “throwaway” accounts to hide their identities. As well, it does not take a whole lot of effort to register a temporary e-mail address in order to register with ANY online social website.

    4chan itself is the website on the internet that tends to be associated with anonymous users.

    What I see OMGUW possessing that other website such as 4Chan and Reddit do not have is that ability for anonymous posters to actually be able to closely relate to the material posted on the website. It has become such a “social media obsession” because it caters to the university student when they are at the most important stage in their own lives. By posting on larger social media websites, the anonymous user runs the risk of having their post(s) lost in the massive influx of daily posts. OMGUW offers a relatively popular website, but at the same time gives an anonymous poster a platform where they can almost guarantee their posts will be seen by a good majority of people before the website is updated with new posts.

    It has very little to do with being a haven for sexism or racism. Anonymity offered through new social mediums has always attracted sexism and racism, but in no terms has it offered a “haven” for polarizing social views. To claim “OMGUW is a haven for racist, sexist trolls” is , for lack of a better term, making a mountain out of a mole hill. Do sexist and racist posts exist? Yes. Do they comprise even a sizable minority of the website? Not by a long shot.

  5. This is a very poorly written article to say the least. If the author wished to induce some low-level alarmism he has failed. When people have anonymity they show what real-life scenarios contain. To pretend that there is no hostile feelings shared from person to person is naive at best. Liberal fascism with forced tolerance and affirmative action just pushes problems below the surface. I am sorry I read this article, do I get a discount off a Roger’s cell phone for reimbursement?

    • I would consider revising the construct of your comment.

  6. In my own experiences with facebook, twitter etc, I get obsessed with the constant updates and want to interact with new postings. This in turn makes me feel like I am an obsessed stalker. I spend hours hovering around the laptop avoiding interaction before I give in and am back on checking status’. Any one else feel like a stalker at times :)

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