Spotted at Trent: Community building or cyberbullying


Photo by Keila MacPherson

It is a scene that is likely familiar to many Trent students:

“To the fella who had the guts to ask me for my number in the OC computer lab- I salute you. More people need to take chances,” or “the guy cracking the beer open in sociology knows how to do thirsty Thursdays right.”

Seemingly anonymous posts gathered on a central social media account—this is the culture of “spotted pages.”

For those who do not know, the premise is relatively simple. Individuals can send private messages to a hub account that will then proceed to post the submitted messages, with no ties to the original messenger. In doing so, people have the opportunity to leave pseudo-anonymous posts.

Spotted pages are common at Canadian Universities these days. The University of Waterloo, Queens University, the University of Toronto and others all have easily accessible spotted pages. Trent has two popular ones currently in operation, one on Facebook with 3667 likes and one on Twitter with 1154 followers.

The intention of these pages is to submit posts about what is seen around the region that the page serves, in this case, Trent University. “Saw someone at Trent & would like to send them an anonymous message? Do it here! Send us a DM and we’ll post it! Don’t be shy!” reads the description on the Twitter profile. A similar explanation is found on the Facebook page.

It’s not a phenomenon that is limited to Canada, nor is it to universities. There are plenty of spotted pages for educational institutions in America, Europe, and elsewhere around the world. In addition, there are spotted pages for parks, shopping centres, and other public locations. If nothing else, spotted pages are common.

Common, and controversial. There are many differing opinions on the existence and usage of such pages. There are those who feel that the page builds community, while others feel it is a method of avoiding actual social interaction. Similarly, there are those who feel that the pages are humorous and entertaining and those who feel that some of the posts are unpleasant and offensive.

One Trent student, Megan Webb, feels that the page is limiting proper interaction between individuals. “I love the page for its humorous moments,” she said, “but it seems like people are using it as a way to cop out of telling people how they actually feel, stooping further into the stigma of people relying on social networks to interact.”

Sonal Mandalia, an exchange student from Kent University, however, feels that the usage of the pages are an indication of the strong community present at Trent. “It’s an indication of Trent’s ethos,” she said.

Summer Stevenson, a third year student, has some concerns about the entire process. “I think it can be used for wonderful things, but people have an issue with anonymity,” she said, explaining that some of the posts strike her as being “destructive and mean and bullying.”

Posts, such as the one posted to the Twitter page on November 3 that says “to the girl rambling on in POST1000Y.. Please shut the f*** up” could certainly be perceived as cyberbullying. In addition, various posts commenting on physical appearances could be considered sexual harassment.

But what about the people who run the spotted pages? What are their thoughts on the matter? Through a conversation on Twitter, the unnamed admin of the Twitter page provided some insight into the inner workings.

The individual who manages the Twitter page is not the same person behind the Facebook page. They simply wanted to provide a similar service on an alternate social network in order to cater to those who use Twitter more heavily than Facebook.

When it comes to moderation it is not extensive, but they do attempt to make sure what gets posted is positivity. “I really don’t have a ton of time to fix things when they come in,” the account owner said, “because I get tons of direct messages a day from people so it’s hard to keep up and fix everything that gets sent to me. However, I do like to skim to make sure that what I’m posting isn’t negative.”

They admit that some of the posts that have been submitted have been more than questionable. “I’ve received some really harsh messages,” they said, but noted that pleasant messages are frequent as well.

“There’s one way that people use this page that stands out to me from the rest and it makes me so happy,” they said. “When people point out random acts of kindness or just give recognition to people. I always love getting messages about how great a Tim Horton’s worker is or how nice it was to get a smile from an unfamiliar face.”

As of press deadline, the administrator of the Facebook page had not responded to any inquiries.

The Trent spotted pages have been used for both good and bad. It has been shown that there is the potential for the page to be used to spread cheer and goodwill through posts such as “to the guy who held the door for me today, thanks. I was having a pretty crappy day so a small gesture like that really made me feel better,” but also that the potential is there for it to be used in a negative fashion as well.

In the end, it all comes back to the users. It is up to those who use the page to determine the fashion the service is used. Will the spotted at Trent pages build or hinder community? Will they spread positive or negative messages? It depends on what the users decide.

As such, there are some things that should be kept in mind if you intend to use the pages. What kind of community do you want to be a part of? What sorts of anonymous messages would you want posted about yourself? And of course, because nothing is truly anonymous, what sorts of messages would you want associated with your name? If these questions are kept in mind, acceptable ways to use the pages should be easy to spot.

About Zachary Cox 29 Articles
Zachary is a first year student in the Trent/Loyalist Journalism program, who has a wide range of interests from sports to politics to alpaca sweaters. He thinks Trent University and Peterborough are pretty neat and enjoys writing about the community for the Arthur. Other ventures that he is or has been involved with include the likes of the Youth Advisory Council for the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games and Rotary Interact. Down the road, Zachary can see himself working somewhere in the world as a field journalist, or perhaps trying his hand at intellectual property law.