Anonymous Photo Sharing App Raises Questions After Recent Incident On OSU Campus

The anonymous photo sharing app, Unseen, was recently used to send out a photo of some female students dancing at a fundraiser for the Susan G. Koman organization on the Oklahoma State University campus. Ordinarily a photo of college girls dancing wouldn’t be much to raise conversation, but the photo shared through Unseen was of a group of African-American students and the ensuing comments were hurtful and racist.

The use of anonymous social media sharing apps on college campuses is becoming anything but the harmless way to interact with others that it started out to be. Now, some students are using them to send out racist and homophobic pictures and videos as is evident in the recent case at Oklahoma State University.

Students in receipt of the photo came to the defense of the girls as they were subjected to comments such as “Call the zoo, the gorillas got out again,” “Porch monkeys” and “Coon squad.” Students defended the girls by reminding those making comments that they were raising money and awareness for breast cancer while some said that the behaviors of their peers elicited feelings of shame and embarrassment. The student responsible for the photo even stated, “I do not condone these comments.”

OSU sophomore, Kaelynn Knoernschild, wrote about the incident in the university’s newspaper and says, “I couldn’t believe that people from my campus were making these comments that were inappropriate and insensitive towards their fellow classmates. I really just think it’s the disinhibition effect.”

According to Knoernschld, many of the students she interviewed for the newspaper were happy to see the issue garner some attention and awareness. She says, “Their side was being presented and it wasn’t just being kicked under the rug; (they were glad) we were actually reporting that comments like this are still being made this day in age.”

CEO and co-founder of Unseen, Michael Schramm, acknowledges that there will be cases where the app will be used for harm rather than its intended purpose of communicating with others. He also feels that Unseen has far more pros than cons, especially if there is a means of moderating the comments.

Schramm says, “With all freedom, there are pros and cons that come with it. Really what it requires is not so much focusing on the negatives, but stepping back and looking at what good things come from an environment, a community or even a country (that has freedom).”

He goes on to say, “The vast majority of things brought to light with the OSU events that occurred were really just straight malicious content of no real value, and that’s not something at all that we support. That’s something that we work very diligently in removing.”

The courage and willingness to speak out about the racist comments left on their picture is said to have “inspired a renewed sense of purpose” according to the open letter sent to OSU after the incident. The company is going to work hard on making the app more “constructive and inclusive” to ensure that other students aren’t subjected to the same treatment as the girls in the photo.

The letter says, “Our company will continue to make improvements to the system and processes that aim to make Unseen a place where anyone can hang out and be who they are. It’s an exciting challenge, and we’re eager to take it on.”

Not all comment and topics shared on anonymous apps like Unseen and Yik Yak are negative and harmful, as Knoernschild and Schramm are both quick to point out.

Schramm says, “I think it’s really being able to connect people of differing opinions, thoughts and beliefs in very open, transparent way that really breeds a lot of these discussions.”

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