Non-Williams student online: Uncovering WSO’s ‘John’

His first post was on March 20 about the suawastica on the side of Weston. Thinking it was a swastika (the right-facing Nazi symbol) instead of a suawastica (the left-facing Buddhist symbol), he made a comment about dumb fraternity boys and asked if we as a community were offended by the symbol. “I’m new to WSO, so please be nice,” he said at the end of the post. “Tell me what you guys think?”

From that post, however, things deteriorated quickly. While some Williams Students Online (WSO) users sarcastically explained to the mystery poster the difference, others ridiculed him for having asked such a question. Finding the provocation that he seemed to be seeking, the secret poster was unleashed on a WSO trolling rampage that lasted for over a month. The mysterious WSO poster signed his name as “John” after every post but was writing under the account of Cheryce Husar ’12, a first-year who had never previously posted on WSO.

Later on in the suawastica WSO thread, “John” wrote: “can som1 staying over brake call security to fix it b4 i get back? my daddy donates tons of money to Williams – hahaha I want to be investment banker and then rule world!!!!!!!!!! c u later ; ) i sex your gilfriend!!!!!!!!!!”

As WSO users began to wake up to the reality that someone was intruding on their discussions, Will Piereson ’11 posted, “Please don’t feed the trolls.” However, “John” persisted with his posting, warning that, “This thread will one day resurface and terror shall reign over Massachusetts and the entire world – muahahahha!!! soon enough you all will be mine!!!”

As the weeks passed and “John” continued to show up on WSO discussions, people began to question what exactly was transpiring on their online discussion site. How had “John” been able to access Husar’s account information? Was “John” really Husar, or someone else entirely?

“It wasn’t me,” Husar said in an interview. “I met [“John”] through Jim Dunshee [’09].” But when I asked Husar for ‘John’s’ contact info, she declined.

We ran into Husar again at dinner with Dunshee, and we talked about her reasoning for letting a non-Williams student onto a College student discussion board. “I gave him my information [because] he asked nicely,” Husar said. “To other people [what he says] might seem a little harsh, but to him it’s all a joke.

“Sometimes Williams is a little too serious, and I think John helps me realize that it shouldn’t be all that serious,” Husar continued. “I mean I definitely don’t agree with what he was saying, but I feel like he had the right to say it. I think [WSO] should be a place where outsiders can voice their opinions about Williams and to Williams. I mean, on WSO, it’s always the same 10 people who post over and over again. It’s barely discussion.”

As we were still rather uncertain of “John’s” true identity, Dunshee offered to reach the enigma and allow us to speak to him on the phone. Soon, John was reached.

He was certainly real, and he had a purpose. “I post on WSO because I get my kicks out of it,” he said via Dunshee’s cell phone. “I mean, I visited Williams, and everyone was just so intense, working all f—-ing day. As a community, I feel that you guys are capable of such great things, but that a lot of you are just a bunch of investment banker Jimmys, and that just drives me nuts, makes me crazy.”

John noted that it was almost always the same people posting on WSO, and that discussions often deteriorate into personal attacks and sarcastic mockery. “It always seemed like you guys were pitted against each other, so I wanted to post some stuff that might get you guys off your asses and doing good,” he said.

His final point seemed to be broader than simply critiquing the College. “You look at Ivy League grads, all these brilliant people, and they’re just not good people,” he said. “Is that what we want to aspire to as Americans?”

Whether you find the trolling useful or despicable, “John,” who elected to not divulge any additional information about himself, has certainly had a large impact on online discussion in the past couple months. If nothing else, his presence on WSO forces us to question both who should have access to our discussion site, and what purpose we want the site to serve.