The parodic Twitter account @notbowdoin began drawing attention with its late-October mockery of official Bowdoin communications: “The College is taking Hurricane Sandy as a serious threat. Please stay indoors and tag your Instagrammed hurricane photos with #bowdoinfall.” Since then, it has attracted 124 followers. The Orient was granted an interview with the student behind @notbowdoin on the condition of preserving the individual’s anonymity.
Toph Tucker: Why did you start @notbowdoin?
@notbowdoin: There were a couple of different things. One was the new parking plan, which seemed calculated to put students’ interests behind the interests of prospective students. Then came the website. In addition to being horrible to navigate, they pretty much came out and said, “This is designed with prospective students in mind.” I started getting this image of the College as one that was increasingly not putting its students first. They’re [serving] either prospective students or alumni, the ones who stand to give them money in the form of either tuition or donations.
One other place that was really guilty of that was the Bowdoin Twitter feed [@bowdoincollege], which was by and large propaganda targeted toward alumni. I saw the Bowdoin Twitter as something that didn’t serve students.
TT: And what has the response been?
@notbowdoin: People think it’s really funny. I haven’t had anybody come to me and say “this is unfair” or “this is not funny,” which would be the crippling blow. I think the response has been good. I have not had Bowdoin coming to me and saying “Please take this down,” which is good.
I noticed a big bump [in followers] and I think it was Dhiraj Murthy’s social media class. Somebody found me and used me in a presentation. I’ve had interactions with numerous people who I think are in that class. It’s cool to think that I’m part of somebody’s learning experience.
TT: What do you think is the worst thing @bowdoincollege has ever tweeted?
@notbowdoin: Oh god. Do you want me to find it? I can quote it off the top of my head, but I’ll find it. I tweeted a picture of it. I said “game over, I quit, I’ll never tweet anything stupider about @bowdoincollege than what they tweet about themselves.”
TT: What’s the best thing @bowdoincollege has ever tweeted?
@notbowdoin: In all honesty, my personal belief is that Twitter is an incredibly good tool for disseminating information in a timely manner. I would say their best tweeting was during Hurricane Sandy, when, despite the shit I give them about never tweeting anything useful, they did actually tweet a few tidbits of useful information about the College’s response.
TT: In an ideal world, how would @bowdoincollege tweet?
@notbowdoin: I don’t know. Of course, it’s easy to criticize; it’s harder to build for yourself. I do follow numerous other NESCAC schools. The tweets that I see coming out of them are more directly related to campus events and to things that interest students. They’re not as concerned with attracting attention.
The big social media buzzword is “engagement”—you want to “drive engagement”—but you want it to be meaningful engagement. You don’t want it to be, “Oh, they said something funny.” It has to be based in content, not in superficial amusement. Which is bad, because what I’m trading in is humor and pith.
TT: Some of @bowdoincollege’s tweeting is delegated to students. Do you like that approach?
@notbowdoin: I can see why they would take that approach. I can see them thinking that old people and our generation use Twitter in different ways. But it’s not enough to say “we’ve handled the generation gap by hiring two students.” I would seek to have more perspectives and a greater student voice—not calculated. Not engineering to drive engagement or bring in tuition dollars or alumni donations.
TT: How has the Internet and social media changed the duties of the Office of Communications?
@notbowdoin: Hugely larger audience and the duty to produce content that engages that audience, and so produce more content than before the Internet was around. People are going to be looking for it, because everybody else is doing it.
I feel like where this might lead is, “Are you sympathetic? Does the dramatic expansion of communications channels that the Office of Communications has to cover make it really difficult for them?” And I don’t think it does. I think it makes it easier to reach more people more easily. I wouldn’t want their job, but I don’t think it’s difficult.
TT: What do you think of the role of anonymous speech in society?
@notbowdoin: One of the reasons I started this is that criticism from an individual is easy to ignore. It’s easy for Bowdoin to say, “oh, there’s this kid who keeps saying mean things about our website, or about our Twitter, or about whatever it is that we happen to be doing poorly at the moment.” It’s easy to ignore that and just say this person is overreacting to everything. But anonymous speech stands for something much larger than an individual’s opinions. When you anonymize it, it stands for the beliefs of everyone who subscribes to it. I think anonymous speech has the power to be much louder than individual speech, and effect more change.