Editorial: Where HighSchoolCB Went Wrong—and Why it Was Still a Good Idea

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the students, administration, staff, or faculty of duPont Manual High School.

This editorial was submitted by Ben Wiley (12), special contributor to RedEye.

I need to clear something up.

We have an identifiable culprit in incident we had with HighSchoolCB last week. But it’s not any person or group of people in the Manual student body—though too many of us know that we participated and, in many cases, hurt people to a disgusting degree. The culprit is not Alex Zeltser, the freshman at Carnegie Mellon and former Manual student who created the site, nor is it HighSchoolCB.com itself—which was started with the intention of protecting students’ privacy, not doing the exact opposite. The real culprit here was true, unrestrained anonymity.

Anonymity on the Internet is nothing new—and many of us at school here were already aware of this. True anonymity has been shown to transform people into entirely different beings with the ability to avoid identification. For nearly the entire past decade, anonymous forums—such as one particularly infamous imageboard site whose name I will neglect to mention for the sake of those whose minds have been yet unscarred—have been breeding grounds for unduly popular internet fads, perverse discussion, and content that gives a whole new meaning to “NSFW”. Adding to this formula the accepted knowledge that participants already know each other is sure to result in a disaster of some kind.

But why then, when Zeltser first announced his idea to me and a number of my peers last week, did most of us support it? Because it was a good idea. At least, it could have been. The biggest problem was due to the total lack of accountability it presented—HighSchoolCB was built without IP address tracking or peer moderation beyond a “report” feature most people didn’t realize was there.

And when I say HighSchoolCB could have been and should have been a good thing, I have reason. Anonymity is used frequently for good—whether it be through an anonymous crime tip or the kind stroke of goodness evidenced through an anonymous charitable gift. It can also be used, in fact, to preserve accountability, when a public misdeed is committed. This type of public system of checks-and-balances cannot be evidenced better than through the current case of WikiLeaks. While controversial beyond our wildest imaginations, WikiLeaks has made leaps and bounds to present the general public with shocking information our governments have been hiding from us for years. And while it does seem like the world is now on the brink of the information-based World War III we’ve been fearing, the solution is not to ignore the established practice governments have assumed that entails lying to their citizens.

The biggest problem with WikiLeaks, from the public standpoint, is its apparent lack of a sound filtering system, which would allow for less potentially-life threatening information being posted online and less information being posted that is simply unnecessary—such as trivial, private matters from diplomatic lines that were never intended to be of public consequence. In the same way, what HighSchoolCB needed was a sound system of moderation, one which would have allowed appropriate discussion to thrive and potentially make our school a better community while undesired comments could be quickly ousted.

Granted, I don’t entirely understand why people want anonymity. Beyond the occasional gag on Omegle or ChatRoulette, I choose to keep my information entirely public and tied to whatever I do, whether it be on Facebook or HighSchoolCB, where the one post I made had my name attached. I would hope that all others could follow suit—but that is not how the world works. The simple facts are that our world is imperfect, that not everyone is willing to sacrifice privacy in all situations, and that in some unfortunate situations, anonymity seems to be the only feasible way to protect the rights of the innocent while maintaining justice. I’m not beginning to imply that our school is one big, mean, oppressive regime, but we can all take a turn being accountable, as long as we can do it in a restrained fashion. HighSchoolCB as it was turned out to be a mistake, and we can all learn a valuable lesson from it. That said, it was the anonymity that ruined it, and with adequate restrictions, I’d be perfectly fine with seeing it go back online.
by Ben Wiley, special contributor