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Put a name on it

October 20, 2017

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

In our best form, the Orient works to facilitate constructive dialogue through storytelling—sharing people’s perspectives, reporting events that impact our community and publishing op-eds from named contributors are different avenues through which we pursue the cross-pollination of ideas. The Bowdoin-Class Confess Facebook Page has recently entered the Bowdoin community as a largely anonymous medium that can achieve similar ends. The group has been able to stimulate discussion with its anonymous posts, but we think the most productive discussions happen when people are willing to attach their names to their ideas.

The purpose of Bowdoin-Class Confess is extremely valuable—to hopefully instigate change on campus and in students’ lives. The medium allows students who might feel threatened to contribute to campus dialogue in a safe manner. It is important for our campus to have an outlet for marginalized voices, which makes the anonymous aspect of the page’s platform integral to its mission. The act of sharing these stories benefits not only the writer but also the reader with whom the piece resonates.

But just as important as a post itself is the conversation that follows. Online conversations ought to replicate in-person conversations as much as possible. Therefore, we believe that the most productive discussions on the page happen when people choose to comment on posts with their own name and are held accountable for their opinions.

Additionally, anonymous responses hinder the constructiveness of responsible dialogue. Anonymity in general also has a higher potential for unthoughtful comments and hateful speech; last week, the page announced that they will begin to moderate such posts. Attaching your name to something creates a sense of responsibility for ideas that is necessary to maintain a considerate environment. Everyone has a right to share their story as they see fit, but when people start to engage with ideas, it is most effective when they do it under their names.

The Orient must address the same issues in discussing the use of anonymity. When used appropriately, anonymity can allow for an otherwise unattainable diversity of experiences. Articles may include anonymous interviews that contribute unique or otherwise absent perspectives. Typically, the reporter and editors of a story know the identity of those anonymously quoted and can vouch for the validity of their sources and what we publish. Just as with Class-Confess, there are times when the Orient relies upon anonymity to report a story fully.

We allow anonymous comments on our website because we want to elicit as many opinions as possible. We have received targeted, hateful comments, so we moderate submissions as we have a responsibility to protect the wellbeing of our staff and those we represent. Opinions aimed solely at tearing people down fail to contribute to a constructive dialogue.

Reflecting upon both of these media, we believe that non-anonymous posts—whether that be an op-ed, post or online comment—are the most impactful and stimulate the most productive dialogue. We encourage students to continue to share their narratives and start uncomfortable conversations. But even more, we hope students will attach their names to their perspectives so that their contributions maintain their full value.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Rachael Allen, Anjulee Bhalla, Sarah Bonanno, Harry DiPrinzio, Sarah Drumm, Ellice Lueders and Allison Wei. 


Before submitting a comment, please review our comment policy. Some key points from the policy:

  • No hate speech, profanity, disrespectful or threatening comments.
  • No personal attacks on reporters.
  • Comments must be under 200 words.
  • You are strongly encouraged to use a real name or identifier ("Class of '92").
  • Any comments made with an email address that does not belong to you will get removed.

One comment:

  1. Angry Beaver says:

    Three of my comments on Orient articles have been screened. Per the editors, the basis for their removal was that (1) I used an anonymous handle and (2) the editors believed my comments “did not add to” the discussion. As someone affected by this policy, I am well positioned to add to the discussion here.

    First, a speaker’s anonymity should not factor into whether a comment is posted. A policy that penalizes anonymous commentators will, in practice, penalize vulnerable speakers who would express ideas that are not already popular, since popular opinions need no buffer from retaliation. In the name of “protecting” people, the Orient endorses a policy that hurts marginalized groups who most fear reprisal.

    Second, comments addressing authors’ logical missteps and internal contradictions (as mine did) are not “tearing people down.” To screen them is to conflate argument about ideas with the personal integrity of the idea’s proponent. This is intellectual infirmity. The editors offered no argument in support of their position that the comments were violations of terms other than to repeat question-begging conclusions reached by motivated reasoning. A better policy would be to let the readers decide what contributes to discussion.

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