WSO Boards worth discussing: When keyboard communication creates controversy

While I appreciate the value of the “devil’s advocate,” there definitely is a point where too much criticism is just too much. On the WSO blogs (or more accurately, discussion boards), there is seemingly no discretion on the part of posters, who are notorious for tearing apart each others’ opinions and even grammar, turning what should be an open forum into a rhetorical free-for-all with flying epithets and curses. Recently, the mudslinging on WSO has gotten so ridiculous, I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see a “your mom” joke on the boards.

What’s the big deal with WSO boards? Who cares if Ephs bicker and carry on senseless vendettas on the Internet? For one thing, such simple-minded arguments reflect poorly on the open-mindedness of the campus. Casual observers of WSO threads could be anywhere from offended to annoyed and certainly discouraged by watching students hurl insults at each other over topics as innocuous as the music playing in Paresky. Like most voluntary polls or response surveys (Factrack, anyone?) only the most impassioned responders are likely to post – those sharply in opposition or defense of a topic. And of course, with such polarization of opinions it is not surprising that minds collide forcefully.

Aside from a core group of frequent posters, rarely if ever are new voices heard on WSO – and often only interject when finally offended by a discussion or thread topic. The silent masses are only heard from occasionally to defend a group or try to provide a voice of reason, but predictably, as soon as one thread seems to die down in controversy, another appears to take its place. Many students diligently observe these WSO interchanges much like a train wreck that you can’t help but look at – it’s an entertaining source of procrastination to see what’s riling up WSO posters today. Much like soap opera installments, it serves as a senseless diversion.

Most students have nothing to do with the WSO boards at all, associating them with open hostility and the commentary of a harshly opinionated peanut gallery. Of course, this generalization typifies the stereotyping of WSO at large caused by a few individuals, as many others use the boards as they are intended, for discussion and not for chastising. Obviously, I’m not discrediting them as a valid outlet for freedom of speech. In fact, I recently started a thread to discover the title of a song playing at Paresky, but my test of the boards’ functionality quickly degenerated into a highly critical discussion over whether or not music should be played at all.

It’s definitely cliché, but also applicable, that “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the ability for anyone to post on WSO is no different. With WSO’s current state, there is clearly not an even spectrum of ideas being represented because of mocking and personal Eph-on-Eph attacks that are anything but friendly fire, which frequently occurs to those that disagree with the most vociferous posters. Recent contentious posts include a criticism of the merits of the Mucho Macho Moo Cow Military Marching Band. If you’ve never looked at WSO before, this thread or the Paresky music thread would be good places to start seeing just why WSO posts can be so contentious.

As it stands, WSO is a forum for semi-anonymous posters to share their opinions, which are often presented as unsupported statements of fact, and usually offend those with differing opinions, provoking heated overreactions. It’s doubtful that there is any simple way to remedy this problem of consistently too emotional and irrational discourse, since it is counterintuitive to monitor or censor posts on a forum designed to foster discussion of opinions and sharing thoughts openly.

But at the same time, we should bear in mind who else might be looking at WSO boards. Prospective students (or more importantly, their parents) might see a childish or vulgar battle and judge the campus at large. Much like we are advised to censor our Facebooks for potential employers, we should think about who else might be seeing WSO boards and if that is the image we want to be projecting for our school as “Williams Students Online.”

The question then remains: is there any practical purpose to WSO blogs if they don’t promote discussion, but provide an outlet for virtual feuds? While not every thread erupts (or degenerates) into critical banter, the overall trend is disheartening. In general, posters should bear in mind that more people are reading the threads than just those that respond – besides prospectives, any Williams student can easily click on your name and view your picture and all of your personal information. And just for the record, pun intended, I may not have posted on the thread, but I absolutely love the Mucho Macho Moo Cow Military Marching Band. Get me a kazoo, pronto.

Sara Harris ’11 is from Brookfield, Conn. She lives in Mills.