An SBUChat sticker in the Library. (Frank Posillico / The Statesman)

Frustrated and dissatisfied with Facebook’s monopoly over discussion among Stony Brook students, senior information systems and studio art major Ibrahim Kshash envisioned the creation of an anonymous and simple to use discussion board in which students would be free to discuss whatever they pleased.

His vision came to fruition in April 2010 with the design and subsequent debut of an anonymous imageboard forum, SBUChat.com.

“The problem I find with Facebook is that you’re forced to use your real identity, which is limiting,” said Kshash, 21, who is known to his friends as Ib. “Generally speaking, people would be too scared of expressing their thoughts on a certain person, group or event on a non-anonymous forum.”

Kshash said Facebook is limited by its design—since it is intended solely for communication with friends, it often leaves zero room for dissenting opinions. His model serves to dispel any preconceived notions readers may have about the person behind the posted content. With anonymity, Kshash said, readers judge each post by itself and cannot link them back to their respective authors.

“I made SBUChat so all the different minds in Stony Brook can have an open discussion, and made it anonymous so that people would be much more honest in what they post,” Kshash said.

Advertisement

An imageboard is a forum that centers around posting images instead of text. When users create new topics, they are required to include a picture with their thread. Users are also able to post anything they please. Though there are designated subforums for specific topics, the bulk of the discussion centers almost exclusively around SBUChat’s “General” section, which contains topics from the Undergraduate Student Government to Scott Pilgrim.

The promise of anonymity is a double-edged sword; though students can be honest and forthright with that they post, the spread of libel and untruth can be facilitated by the lack of accountability and traceability behind the comments.

Though anonymity and lack of user registration on imageboards are concepts that many, including Kshash, perceive as an advantage, the cover of anonymity has also been interpreted as a tool that can aid bullies and instigators in doing and saying things they normally would not.

Anthony Casabianca, a senior biology and psychology major,  is a regular poster on the imageboard, but he is also a face that sticks out among the anonymous legions. Unlike most users, he uses the name Anthony C. as well as a tripcode to distinguish himself and add an air of familiarity to his posts.

Advertisement

“I kept my name so that people know who they’re speaking to,”  Casabianca said. “And so that my statements come not only with words but also with my attached personality.”

While Casabianca admitted that anonymity is a good tool for inciting ideas and free speech, as well as a good option for situations in which one may be victimized for the sensitivity of their comments, he said he felt that standing by his words not only “provides a consistent character for the forum to interact with,” but in a way makes his statements “more real.”

(Christian Santana / The Statesman)

“I always felt that if I’m going to raise a point or file a complaint, I should stand behind my statements and not just let my ideas fade into the sea of anonymous users,” Casabianca said.

When discussion extends into more serious subjects, such as campus politics, SBUChat is not without its share of personal attacks and accusations. At present, the largest thread on the site, titled ‘USG IS CROOKED,’ calls for the ousting of current USG officials, including Moiz Khan, the USG director of event programming. Khan’s campus address and attacks on both him and Vice President of Communications and Public Relations David Mazza were posted in the ensuing argument, along with incriminating chat logs alleged to be Khan’s interactions in the site’s IRC chatroom. One user even admitted to launching attacks against Mazza’s site, sbulife.com.

“It’s of no consequence to me what students do with the website,” Mazza said, in reference to the attacks on sbulife.com. “I specifically left it open so that people could enter their own events.”

Advertisement

Though Kshash admits that he has been lenient on moderating posts directed at Khan and Mazza, he says that they, as well as all USG members, are subject to criticism because they are elected officials and public figures.

“For the most part, people have issues with their roles in USG, and not them as people,” Kshash said.

When asked about the threats against him, Khan dismissed them as jokes, saying that he hoped that was all that the threats were.

“Of course it’s justified,” said Mazza when he was asked about the backlash against him on SBUChat. “Anyone who does anything worth criticism should expect it. The reason only Moiz and I are mentioned is because nobody else in USG does anything at all.”

However, Kshash iterated that posts—good or bad—about “regular people” would be promptly removed in compliance with the site’s only code of law: a single, succinct rule that states, “if you a dick, get out.”

“The site is not intended for people to talk about their friends or random people they dislike,” Kshash said. “Besides, CollegeACB seems perfectly content filling that role.”

Advertisement

The site’s experiment in anonymity can be compared—much to the ire of Kshash, who lamented ever hearing about it—to another campus webpage: the Stony Brook University page on CollegeACB.com, an anonymous board that centers around school rumors and gossip and has managed to draw the suspicion of university officials nationwide.

“If I went on SBUChat one day and saw that the discussions had become on the same level as CollegeACB, I’d shut down the site and never speak to anyone from Stony Brook again,” Kshash said. “What purpose does SBUChat serve? It serves as the mature, college-aged counterpart to CollegeACB’s middle school shitfest.”

SBUChat’s moderation of other content has also been called into question by some, including Mazza, who cite the case of 61,001 NetIDs being leaked through a .PDF file in a thread on its “General” section.

“I think it could be moderated better,” Mazza said.

Other aspects of the website are an IRC chatroom and a Wiki where anonymous users can contribute to the database. There are only a few dozen articles so far, mainly about locations within the university. Both features, as well as the site itself, were beta tested before release.

“I was not involved in the coding of the website, but I was involved heavily during the design phase and frequently served as a beta tester for elements of the site,” said senior and computer science major Peter Yeh, a poster and friend of Kshash. “Just a few days ago, I helped test out the new front page.”

SBUChat can be compared to 4chan, which is both the largest imageboard on the Internet and one of the most visited websites daily. Its influence on SBUChat is palpable: posters advertising SBUChat often feature memes such as Trollface or Awesome Face, and posters often use 4chan jargon and engage in behavior such as MFW (my face when, often accompanied by a picture posted as a reaction to something) or greentexting. SBUChat is often referred to as “SBUChan” by posters, though Kshash has tried to at least physically differentiate the site from 4chan by using a completely different forum model.

Advertisement

“I always cringe when I see those /b/tards [denizens of 4chan’s General section, or /b/] shitposting,” Kshash said. “But, I’m also very happy when I see real, meaningful discussions, like that big USG thread.”

According to Kshash, SBUChat boasts an average of 150 to 250 unique visitors per day. The site was originally advertised by fliers and posters put up by Kshash himself; however, SBUChat postage stickers reminiscent of, and even poking fun at, graffiti tagger Walter’s tags have become increasingly commonplace. Catching a glimpse of popular 4chan meme Trollface’s toothy grin alongside the words “you mad, Walter?” on the promotional stickers is a fairly common occurrence.  In fact, they’re often placed over former Walter tags themselves.

“A good friend of mine posts mostly nonsensical posters around campus regularly,” Kshash said. “He despised Walter because he was new on the scene and only advertised his name. He wanted to get the small USPS stickers and put something over them—I suggested SBUChat.”

SBUChat.com

The artist and advertiser, who requested to be known by the alias SQK due to the potential illegality of his work, also designed other familiar fliers, including the famous ‘STAY CALM’ tear-off posters, which he described as “a piece of Orwellian propaganda that’s come out into the real world.”

“In fact, it was during the STAY CALM postering campaign that Ib [Kshash] reiterated his desire to bring together the campus community,” SQK said. “I think in March he bought the domain and started the work on SBUChat. He tried out at least three different versions of the imageboard software before he settled on the current version.”

Like Kshash, SQK went through a number of designs to advertise SBUChat, including Trollface stickers, Awesome Face stickers, and the YOUR TASTE IN MUSIC IS BAD posters before settling on the current, and, in his words, the “most provocative” design: red-striped USPS stickers bearing the site’s name and a pair of glaring eyes.

“The design is actually rather clever—in the ‘from’ part of the label, it has the eyes staring at you, and in the ‘to’ portion, it has SBUChat.com,” SQK said. “These were much quicker to apply and we pretty much bombed campus with those. They worked, and eventually USG showed up on our doorstep.”

In reference to this, Khan said he would like to speak to the site’s owner, and stated that he would be interested in promoting SBUChat.

“Our campus previously didn’t have an anonymous forum,” Khan said. “Though the posts are a bit out there, I think the idea of it [SBUChat] is good.”

Aside from help with advertisements and feedback from friends who served as beta testers, Kshash receives no help with SBUChat—he refers to the site and its associated Wiki as a “one-man show.” When asked about SBUChat’s future, Kshash revealed satisfaction with his brainchild, though he said he was open to suggestion and feedback from users.

“That’s always been the thing,” Yeh said about Kshash. “He’s always been a very motivated fellow. When he decided he was going to do SBUChat, nothing was going to stop him.”

However, some beg to differ.

Advertisement

“They’re leading themselves down a path to not being around much longer,” Mazza said. “If I was running SBUChat, I would’ve deleted that [the thread leaking 61,001 NetIDs]. Though it’s only usernames and not passwords, you still have to take the university’s potential reaction into account.”

Advertisement

Though Casabianca said that he held a negative opinion of the majority of SBUChat comments he had read thus far, he saw the site as “a great opportunity for the campus to communicate.”

“Most of my comments are directed at reforming USG and that’s my primary cause for neglecting anonymity. I would really like to see some positive change at this school before I graduate, and if I have to be the face to blame for trying, then so be it,” Casabianca said. “I’d rather try and be ostracized than stand by and let others speak for me.”

Avatar

Despite a change of major that led him from journalism into the field of English education, fifth-year student Christian Santana is looking forward to spending another year with his friends and colleagues at The Statesman. He originally signed on as a writer back in the fall of 2010 and subsequently made his way up the ranks, earning the positions of copy editor and eventually assistant news editor. During his time at the paper, Christian's covered everything from hard news to events, but his true passion is feature writing. He's followed the Culinary Club on a food tour through Little Italy, interviewed cosplayers and costumers at I-CON, and even garnered a first place award from Newsday's School Journalism Contest for his coverage of Humans vs. Zombies. This past summer, Christian added music writing to his repertoire after interning at the online electronic music publication XLR8R.

Tagged:

2 comments

  1. lol at mazza. . “If I was running SBUChat{…}”
    – =) theres a definite reason USG is useless while SBUChat is great.. imho…

    “{…}you still have to take the university’s potential reaction into account.”
    – theres something to the anonymity at SBUChat.. maybe its the freedom of expression…?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.