When junior Albert Nichols last year created his website, Dabbut.com, he intended it to be a new, more truthful alternative to forums such as CollegeACB and JuicyCampus. However, Dabbut presents a host of potential privacy and cyber bullying−related issues that concern some Jumbos.
As a website, Dabbut.com is meant to be used solely by Tufts students. They can comment about students and groups, and others vote the comments as “true” or “false.” If others vote a comment as true, that commenter’s future judgments will have more weight. However, if a comment is voted false or rude, that person’s vote will have less weight in the future.
The site compiles information from across the Internet — including from Facebook and other sources — using an automated search function. Many students do not realize that Dabbut has posted their name or a picture and made their profile available for other people’s comments.
In order to comment on others’ profiles, Dabbut users must verify their status as a student either by being a part of the Tufts network on Facebook or by confirming that they have a Tufts email address.
Nichols said the site has garnered both positive and negative responses.
“It’s all about lowering the threshold to get involved with things — whether it’s a person or a group,” he said. “What’s on Dabbut is decided by its users, so we hope that the entire community will contribute to the site, voice their opinion and make Tufts a more open, accessible place for people to get information,” Nichols said.
“The goal is to create a tool for people to find what they don’t know now. Nine times out of 10, there is someone who knows something you don’t — we wanted to create something that allows them to share that with you and get some reward for it,” he said.
Senior Erica Spurlock first discovered Dabbut last spring when a friend from her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, sent an email to the sorority e−list about the website.
“Immediately I realized the problems that this website had, and as vice president in charge of public relations and communications, I took it upon myself to make sure that me and everyone in my sorority was removed,” Spurlock said.
Their worries were assuaged when Nichols disabled the site because of expected usage dips during the final exam period.
“We did not expect as much traffic as we got and we were unable to keep the site running correctly,” Nichols said in an email to the Daily.
When Nichols reinstated the site this semester, Spurlock made an appointment with Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman.
“We discussed options and he absolutely agreed that the site was potentially dangerous, but from a legal standpoint his hands were tied,” Spurlock said.
Nichols said he sought out professional resources to ensure the site’s legality.
Despite the site being sound from a legal standpoint, though, Spurlock said she still has major concerns about privacy issues relating to the site.
“My first immediate thought was, ‘I am applying to law school right now, and I can’t have something like this up and available for people to see.’ Obviously that sentiment extended for anyone applying for jobs, internships, etc. or anyone who wants to have control over how they are portrayed on the Internet. It’s not fair to have lies people anonymously post about you to be available to anyone who looks,” she said.
While Nichols says the site has good intentions, he has received feedback from students who are worried about the opportunity it gives users to write rude or baseless remarks. Nichols anticipated this concern when he was creating Dabbut and said that the site has a built−in monitoring system for limiting this type of behavior.
“In an online environment, there is always the opportunity for that. Making the site, we created the opportunity for users to tag things as untrue and inappropriate, and if enough people do this, they are removed from the site immediately,” Nichols said. “In terms of accountability, the whole site is orientated toward everybody having a say … We basically want to value the opinion of everybody, and if people say something is false or rude, we will remove it from the site, and hold that person accountable.”
In addition to her worries about privacy, Spurlock raised concerns about the type of cyber bullying Dabbut could allow.
“What is especially problematic is how easily someone can [post on Dabbut.com]. Everyone is subject to rude comments of people…It didn’t seem right that being a student at Tufts automatically made you a victim on the site,” Spurlock said.
Other students also share this concern over the site turning into a forum for rude campus gossip.
“I think it will be a lot harder to keep Dabbut from being offensive as it becomes more widely known,” junior Adrienne Dreyfus said. “One good thing about it as opposed to CollegeACB is that [Nichols] tried to tackle the issue of people making bad comments without any sort of retribution … but at the same time, I don’t think that even [he] can prevent some people from being offended,” she said.
“I think his idea is that if you get a mass opinion, you get an honest one,” Dreyfus said. “People take everything on the Internet as the honest truth and that’s just not true. When you’re applying it to people, I think that people might just use it for the wrong reasons. Sometimes you don’t actually want to know an accurate portrayal of a person. At that point you can’t really choose.”
Dreyfus and Nichols have both said that they haven’t observed students using the site to post negative comments, and there have been no major issues thus far. If the site ever did become a forum for cyber bullying, Nichols said, he would take action.
“If it becomes anything like CollegeACB, a purely negative or bad representation of who people are and what groups are, I will take it down immediately. Obviously our intentions are good — there is no pride in making a website that hurts people,” Nichols said.
Nichols hopes that Dabbut will become a useful tool for the Tufts community and suggests that if students are concerned with privacy issues relating to the site or cyber bullying, they should go on the site and experiment.
“I built this for Tufts,” he said. “I want people to have the ability to know people they don’t know, and to find out about groups they are interested in. For example, if you’re a freshman and want to dance at Tufts, you can type in TDC [Tufts Dance Collective], and find out about [it]. It gives people at Tufts an easier way to access and to enter things they’re interested in,” Nichols added.
“The reason why there may be controversy is because it’s a new concept and it’s pushing the limits. It’s something that hasn’t been brought online before, and it will happen.”