‘President Jenkins laments the use of Blind Tiger’

This op-ed by President Garry W. Jenkins appeared in The Bates Student newspaper on March 6, 2024.

Bates students, we have a problem. It’s Blind Tiger.

The name of the app itself speaks to the problem: It’s a forum for anonymous and sometimes vicious speech that is thoroughly counter to the open and welcoming culture of Bates. While Blind Tiger is a third-party platform that Bates has no control over, some members of our community are using it to inflict harm here. Recently, we have seen it used by a few to demean and humiliate others through misogynistic, body-shaming, antisemitic, and anti-Arab comments, sometimes pointed at specific individuals, all behind a veil of cowardly anonymity. However, I understand that Blind Tiger has been a space for unkind and harmful speech for some time at many institutions.

We all understand intuitively that anonymity on social media abets bad behavior, facilitates uncivil discourse, and motivates inflammatory dialogue in shared online spaces. Blind Tiger specifically has a “Don’t Be a Jerk” user agreement that requires users to agree “not to post defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content”—yet posts of that tenor are all too frequent. 

We are better than this. I know because I have seen Bates students in action, in community with one another, supporting and uplifting and encouraging one another in the best of ways. I have seen you tackle difficult issues together and engage in civil and productive dialogue. I have seen you cheer each other on at athletic events and give each other standing ovations at artistic performances. Every day, I see you treating each other with intention and care and celebrating what your fellow students bring to our community. In speaking with many of you, I hear that Bates’ culture of warmth and genuine curiosity about and care for others are what drew you here. It’s certainly part of what drew me to Bates and why I am so proud to be here now. But much of the commentary on Blind Tiger doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make any of us proud.

To be fair, I fully realize that the overwhelming majority of students do not post on this particular forum or only post innocuous messages, and far larger numbers of students on the app actively challenge and vote down hateful comments. Inevitably, though, a vile post lingers, the hatefulness persists, and this is hurting our community. It affects student mental health, it’s scarring our peers, it undermines a sense of belonging for those targeted, it’s even causing students to leave our community. It only takes a few people—a few awful posts—to poison the well for us all. What some might prefer to view as a casual display of snark is causing real and serious damage. That’s what cyberbullying does. 

Here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. Many of you have told me that you abhor the discourse on Blind Tiger. In addition, my colleagues and I have spoken to administrators at peer institutions and it turns out that while such anonymous social media apps on campuses are commonplace, this problem is not universal. This tells me we can change. We can determine and shape our own culture.

Accordingly, I have a simple request for our Bates community: If you feel compelled to engage with Blind Tiger, I encourage you to conduct yourself the same way in the virtual space that you would in your real-world interactions with your fellow students. Aim for civility and mutual respect, at least, and openness, care, and kindness at best. Don’t confuse actual discourse on a difficult topic or genuine engagement on political issues with anonymous personal attacks and bullying. Resist the facile temptation that anonymity offers, and speak with thoughtfulness and the courage of your convictions—whether in the classroom, at Commons, or online—as if your name was attached. 

Or better yet, might we all delete Blind Tiger, altogether? Any expert would advise that if a particular social media forum is not serving our personal (or collective) interests, then the best approach is to stop engaging with it. Such apps thrive on attention, so perhaps one way to end its hold on us is to stop posting to it, stop talking about it, stop sharing it with friends, and stop being a voyeur. Our in-person community is special and beautifully supportive, and I hate to see this app used to undermine it. 

We have a problem right now. But it is one that is well within our power to fix. 

Garry W. Jenkins