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Earlier this week, an unofficial Instagram account called “LU SLANDER” started gaining traction before a swift deletion. Whether @lu_slander disappeared due to being reported or the account moderator’s conscience is unknown. The page’s bio stated unashamedly “THIS PAGE IS FOR YALL TO TALK YO SHIT” and, at my last count, had more than 110 followers. The page was an anonymous message board for, as the name suggests, slander between Lawrentians.
Stochastic terrorism is an important concept that’s become more well-known in recent times and will help to understand the issues at hand here, though I’ll save you all the after-school special on what cyberbullying is and why it’s bad. Basically, stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communication to target an individual victim or group with the indirect consequence of inciting unpredictable violence against this victim. The unpredictable violence is what makes it “stochastic”; the targeting and incitement of violence make it terrorism.
I am already not the hugest fan of the multiple iterations of Lawrence “Missed Connections” Instagram pages (@lawrencemissedconnections, @missedconnectionslu and @larryumissedconnections) which are accounts where people submit anonymous messages. While these are generally framed as positive or cute messages to crushes, my opinion is that “Missed Connections” and “Slander” are two sides of the same stochastic coin in their anonymity and uncertain impact on the individuals who get called out on either.
While I would not call for as rigorous a demolition of Missed Connections as I would and did for Slander, neither of these platforms are healthy. They create a bastardized, alienating sense of community at Lawrence.
Missed Connections has, in my experience, been a place for ironic jokes, general queries, glad handing between friends, occasional sincere attempts to reach out and, worst of all, anonymous sexualization of fellow Lawrentians. The issue with my description here is that we do not know and can never know the sincerity, intent or potential harm caused by EITHER of these pages. Regardless of how kind Missed Connections might seem at a glance (and compared to Slander), this unpredictable anonymous nature is what makes the harm done by both pages stochastic.
While “Slander” in its first few hours alleged a number of Lawrentians as rapists and predators, “Missed Connections” has been teetering on thin ice for a while with posts that are clearly meant for anonymous sexual gratification. These comments targeting individuals might have a sexualized compliment or even sexual ideation concerning the recipient, but they all lack the same crucial thing: consent of the person being called out.
These are two sides of the same coin. One alleges sexual harassment to serve unreliable and dubious justice, one risks sexual harassment to serve an unreliable and dubious compliment. Both solicit messages anonymously, giving them the stochastic, uncertain nature where the anonymous poster has no accountability whatsoever for the people they might be hurting or affecting through their post. Furthermore, whether something gets posted is left to an unknown Lawrentian moderator who runs the page.
While “Slander” (as the name grossly admits) has individuals walking around campus not knowing whether they have been, well, slandered Missed Connections has people walking around feeling invisible and isolated for not being posted about or complimented. They both invite you to unhealthily check in constantly whether you’re afraid of or desire to be posted about, creating a Frankenstein’s monster of a public square for our Lawrence community that feeds off of social anxiety and FOMO for the cheap thrill of being able to say some outlandish silly things anonymously.
Also to note, with the state of internet privacy and security, especially concerning social media data, being constantly contested through various data breaches and data mining scandals, I don’t think it’s a guarantee that what gets posted about a person without their consent doesn’t come back to bite them down the line.
I cannot emphasize the following more: following these pages legitimizes them and makes them relevant. The Shoutbox Facebook group (which I am an admin of) that has more than 1000 members was founded and is run by students. It has been unaffiliated with the Lawrence admin for multiple years since its inception. I think people often join this group because they want to make sure they don’t miss information on current events and goings-on at Lawrence shared by community members, and it’s the 1000+ members that make the group truly impactful and legitimate. On the other hand, I think people follow Missed Connections and Slander because they have a fear of missing out (FOMO) on the latest wacky anonymous compliment or insult and, make no mistake, the 100+ followers who ended up joining Slander made it impactful too.
I have been an on-and-off indulger in and receiver of Missed Connections and I don’t have an issue with everything posted there (anonymous queries which don’t single out individuals actually seem to be overwhelmingly positive in my opinion), but I’m taking this “Slander” moment as a wake-up call to largely disengage with Missed Connections, and I invite the rest of you to do the same.