Oberlin Blogs

Obie Talk Shuts Down

May 14, 2012

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.

Albert Camus, Defence of Freedom, 1960.

This morning, I learned that Obie Talk has been shut down by its creator. Over the past few weeks, there have been many discussions on campus, through which we have made collective progress on how to effectively moderate Obie Talk. None of us expected it to just disappear. Apparently, Will Adams-Keane would prefer to take it down now and to spend time creating his own community moderation system for the website, rather than to proceed as the college and student body were proposing, and as he had previously agreed to, with a group of volunteer student moderators starting immediately, working to remove hateful posts.

Regardless of today's turn of events, it is important to recognise that had this not happened, we would have continued to work hard to find solutions, and that if the problem of cyber-abuse reappears, the student body and administration will resume these efforts.

We, as students, have been working together with our institution to stop anonymous discrimination and hate speech, in order to build a safe and free community for everyone. Students have called for change in Obie Talk for years. By making our voices heard in the real-world discussions that have been taking place at Oberlin recently, we now have had an opportunity to enact that change. We are looking forward, to determine how the future of Oberlin's online community will address the long neglected problems of its past. We are considering how anonymity serves us as at Oberlin, and how we can maintain the benefits of that anonymity without endangering one another.

The first step was a student discussion forum on Friday, May 5th, arranged by the Oberlin Center for Dialogue. Around 50 students attended. The discussion was extremely productive and respectful, facilitated by the dedicated staff of the Oberlin Center for Dialogue, in order to allow everyone present the opportunity to express their views. Many students shared personal stories of how Obie Talk had helped or harmed them. It made for a very informative discussion and represented a true opening-up of the issue on campus. There is a summary of the minutes by a student here.

Concrete proposals to emerge included:

  • Remove all anonymity - every user on Obie Talk or similar sites should be required to enter their name in order to comment.
  • Entire anonymity - if you won't share your own name, don't share somebody else's. This system currently works at Grinnell College, under close moderation.
  • A college-wide student survey should take place, asking what should be done next - although we don't intend to democratise the question of discriminatory language.
  • Real life forums and support networks should be established, following the model of organisations such as 'Alcoholics Anonymous', to provide outlets for those who have been affected by Obie Talk or simply feel disconnected from our community in any way.
  • A brand new online forum should be created with a regulatory system already in place.
  • There should be separate areas of such sites for advice, support and hate speech.
  • Remove the 'search' option from the website, so that you can't look up certain people's names.
  • Shut down the website.
  • Boycott the website.

The range of views were wide, and yet almost everyone agreed that the Obie Talk status quo could not continue. We need to find ways to move forward, to not fester in Gun Rights analogies along the lines of: 'the internet doesn't hurt people - people hurt people,' and to decide, as the vast majority of us seem to have, that targeted online discrimination and harassment must be stopped, and that it is well within our capability and social responsibility to do so.

The Oberlin Student Senate met to discuss their formal recommendation to the administration on behalf of the student body, based on the results of this student discussion. The idea of a college-wide student survey was supported and would have been initiated before the end of the semester. Perhaps, although Obie Talk is currently shut, it would still be a good idea for all students to receive a survey through which they could register their views as to what course of action should be taken with regard to such sites in the future.

Many students volunteered to be moderators of Obie Talk, and those students met to discuss what the exact moderation regulations would be last week. I will report on those decisions if and when they are made available.

Another student-run anonymous online forum, Obies Anonymous, has just launched. This website requires you to log in using your student ID, but the information is encrypted, so your comments remain entirely anonymous. However, this means that if a user repeatedly posts hateful comments, they will develop a 'reputation' by being 'flagged down' by other users, resulting in a decrease in the number of times they are allowed to post per day. The site also has the potential to block those who abuse it. If you flag a post as being about you specifically, moderators delete it immediately. The hope is that, in stark contrast to its predecessor, the culture of this site will be established as one of safety and support from the outset.

And suddenly, Obie Talk has gone. We cannot know what will happen next semester, but one thing is certain: Oberlin has begun to actively address the problem of cyber-bullying democratically and productively, and we will continue to do so should the need resurface. The absence of Obie Talk is a chance for us all to clarify exactly what, if anything, we gain directly from such a website, and if those benefits can in fact be found in other, safer, more positive ways. The past few weeks of discussion have yielded great progress and we are building the foundations for sustainable change. For now, goodbye for the summer from a cyber-abuse free Oberlin.

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Responses to this Entry

This is so boring.

Posted by: Joseph Spiros on May 14, 2012 11:42 PM

"Apparently, Will Adams-Keane would prefer to take it down now and to spend time creating his own community moderation system for the website, rather than to proceed as the college and student body were proposing, and as he had previously agreed to, with a group of volunteer student moderators starting immediately, working to remove hateful posts."

So in your first post, you vilified Will for putting up the site, and in your second post, you do the same for taking it down? Didn't you want ObieTalk to go away in the first place? I'm just asking for clarification, here.

For the record, I'm pretty sure no one, save Will, knows exactly why the site is down, though I'm sure the recent controversy had something to do with it.

Posted by: '12 on May 14, 2012 11:44 PM

Obietalk went away once it will probably be back again. Sorry, there's not really anything you can do about it.

Posted by: Anonymous on May 15, 2012 12:07 AM

Despite what was discussed at the forum for ObieTalk, I believe ObieTalk should stay status quo (no moderators). Clearly the people drawn to that meeting were those that were generally in favor of either shutting down ObieTalk or having it censored by moderators, and, that does not necessarily represent the campus-wide view of what should be done to ObieTalk as it pertains to having or not having moderators. At the end of the day, the site is independent of the college and it was created by Will, so he has the right to do what he chooses with it and should not be coerced by the administration into appointing moderators. As for this article and your last one, it seems you simply feel the need to whine no matter what happens. He doesn't take it down, you whine. He takes it down, you still whine.. I find it funny that you mentioned that "students have called for change in ObieTalk for years," when ObieTalk is only three years old and you have only been at this school for slightly less than one year. You don't have a say in this, Ruby. Making blog posts time and time again is most definitely NOT going to change Will's mind, nor should he consider your blog when deciding how to run or whether to run ObieTalk.

Posted by: Matt Alden on May 15, 2012 4:34 AM


I understand that there are strong feelings on all sides of this issue, but please keep it civil. Thanks.


Posted by: Ben Jones on May 15, 2012 7:27 AM

Why don't Oberlin blogs have a downvote option?

Posted by: Anonymous on May 15, 2012 10:29 AM

Free speech applies to everything, including (and especially) things you don't like. It's disappointing to see that people are so oversensitive and insecure that they let idiots saying stupid things on the internet hurt their feelings so deeply. People should be allowed to say whatever they want, and you should have the ability to ignore or at least not be hurt by it. Don't be so vulnerable and so eager to take offense.
I've been called a great many horrible things (both online and off) in my life, and I've always considered it my responsibility to distinguish between dumb, angry insults and valid criticism. You should listen to and be hurt by valid criticism. You should have the wherewithal to realize that stupid, petty attacks and insults don't matter, and to ignore them. If you don't have that capability, don't go on the website.

Posted by: Anonymous on May 15, 2012 11:24 AM

I have edited out a handful of sentences in comments with over-the-top personal attacks. Keep it constructive please.

Also, this post is just an update on what has happened since the last post... if you wish to continue the original debate, please visit the original thread.


Posted by: Ben Jones on May 15, 2012 11:42 AM

This is so full of empty rhetoric it makes me sick. Seriously pointless blog post.

Posted by: Anonymous on May 15, 2012 3:51 PM

Obie Talk is dead, long live whatever anonymous posting site pops up next.

Posted by: Anonymous on May 16, 2012 1:50 AM

I'm not a current student, but I will be arriving in the fall. I just wanted to thank you, Ruby, for keeping people like me updated. When I read your blog, I'm not really looking for an opinion or a solution to the problem--I just want to know what the situation looks like from a student's perspective. I want to know what's going on. So I thank you for writing these posts. I think they serve their purpose.

Posted by: Zoe on May 16, 2012 2:37 AM

Just wanted to add:

According to OberWiki, ObiesAnonymous was made by Will Adams-Keane. I don't know how accurate this information is. However, if he did make this site, it's clear that he was willing to listen to the administration and the student body to make a better anon board. Just something to consider.


Posted by: '12 (second comment, back again) on May 16, 2012 12:32 PM

The obiesanonymous.com site was actually created by student Cooper Labinger. See bottom of this page:


Posted by: Anonymous on May 16, 2012 12:36 PM

why would you want to remove anonymity???

Posted by: animalmother on May 16, 2012 4:08 PM

forget the queen, long live obietalk!

Posted by: Anonymous on May 16, 2012 4:25 PM

@anon-- Thanks for the clarification, I hadn't thought to look. Not my best moment.

Posted by: '12 from above on May 16, 2012 9:01 PM


Posted by: Jonas Wisser on May 17, 2012 9:49 AM

Speaking of things it is "well within our capability and social responsibility to do", it's extremely important that we address the issues behind the Dascomb incident and the "Mexican party" incident several years ago—and that's something that attacking anonymous forums does little to accomplish.

Thank you Jonas - I really believe the issue at hand that must be addressed is the tension, often racially motivated tension, that is prevalent on campus. It's true that Obietalk is indicative of this tension, but that does not mean Obietalk is the source of it, and that eliminating Obietalk will make all of this go away. We need to address these problems as a student body, not project them onto an entity that is only related to it in a tangental way.

Posted by: student '12 on May 17, 2012 2:26 PM

Due to a high volume of abusive comments posted on this blog, we have decided to tentatively disable the commenting feature.
Cary Foster
Director of Web Initiatives

Posted by: Cary Foster on May 17, 2012 4:58 PM

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