How A Social Media App Affects Community
by YU FEI HUANG
An article on Gateway, the official student newspaper of the University of Alberta, advertised Chillabit as a great way to build community among students. As a sociology student/Dag writer, who is always curious about the things around me, I downloaded Chillabit and decided to experiment with the app for a week. I slowly started to explore the functions that are available, including the upvote and downvote system to show your approval of a post, the anonymity of posting, and the incomprehensible tips that are offered to you after someone likes you on Chillabit. It was the second day of using this app when I started noticing the problematic pattern of posts. Specific individuals or positions were targeted and discussed as if they had no access to the app.
Since Professor Milbrandt teaches a sociology course covering the topic of media, I decided to interview her to talk about Chillabit. During the interview with Professor Milbrandt, I mentioned that several people were pushed under the spotlight involuntarily when posters explicitly suggested the identity of the person being discussed. And after explaining to Professor Milbrandt how the app works, she pointed out that “while most of it is likely done in the spirit of play, anonymous posting can have the unintended consequence of undermining the socially trusting and relatively community character of our campus.”
By subjecting unwanted attention to someone on social media the individual is disempowered. The consequences become more serious if the disempowered person is already marginalized in the Augustana community. Professor Milbrandt also said, “it would be positive if online communication supported, rather than undermined, the unique social character of our campus.” While staff and faculty deliberately attempt to connect with students through small-sized lectures and joining community events, Chillabit may not serve its original purpose of building a community at Augustana.
I also talked with some students to get an idea of what they think about the app. Some point out the negative effect of Chillabit, as students can post negative opinions anonymously and hide behind the screen, while some argue that the app is a great source of entertainment and information on campus.
Personally, I do not think posters intend to hurt anyone. They are simply inconsiderate about how one will feel being openly discussed in a platform that every student on the campus can access. I am not condemning anyone who uses Chillabit to tease a friend. Rather, I am hoping this article will prompt you to think critically about how you use this app.
During those days that I experimented with the app, I understood the temptation of scrolling through the app without thinking about the consequences for those being mentioned. I also understand the addiction to consume gossip without the actual interactions with people that holds you accountable for your opinions. I did notice there were posts on Chillabit praising individuals on the campus or even combating rumours targeted to specific people, and it was great of the posters to spread some positive energy.
Yet, guaranteed anonymity also opens up the channel for people to be mean under the false consciousness that there is no repercussion beyond the rankings in the app. Chillabit proclaims to foster a community, but is the app necessary in a tight-knit campus such as Augustana? Augustana is all about bringing people together — it is the official Augustana advantage that differentiates Augustana from North Campus!
I realize that students will not stop using Chillabit after reading this article, but I wish that readers turn this kind of communication into a means to further foster the sense of community and make Augustana a more welcoming place. Professor Milbrandt concluded the interview by wondering if posters might find creative ways to subvert or challenge the temptation to post anonymously by including their names, and encouraging others to do the same. After reading this article, I hope readers will reflect on their use of Chillabit by acknowledging that words can hurt, and think about the ways we can make the app beneficial to every student. And, I hope you are brave enough to challenge the negative use of the app when such occasions arise.