Anonymous Chat Rooms: Are They Really a Safe Space?

July 30, 2020

With the end of quarantine seemingly nowhere in sight, the release of the musical Hamilton on streaming platforms, was a welcome distraction. As you may know, the Broadway hit begins with Alexander Hamilton arriving in New York to start a new life, with the belief that “In New York, you can be a new man.” But does that same ideology apply to the internet and anonymous chat rooms?

Many college students are beginning to turn to anonymous chat rooms when faced with a personal hardship or when when they need an outlet. The idea is that a student can communicate with a complete stranger and be their true selves, or “new,” in the sense that they are not pressured to portray the persona they do in face-to-face interactions. Anonymous chat rooms are being particularly advocated for victims of sexual assault, who face unique harms when speaking out about their experience. While the idea is sound, it unfortunately may not be nearly as effective in application.

Of course, platforms for sexual assault victims to talk about their experiences are critical to the recovery process. Even if the victim has received “closure” through the successful resolution of a sexual assault case, the victim likely still needs a safe place to speak about what happened in a manner in which they won’t face judgement. While anonymous chat rooms could be that place, the risk of being identified remains, especially in a smaller school with a tight-knit community word may travel. This in turn means the victim could still potentially face unwelcome attention and gain an unfavorable reputation.

On the other hand, what about the student who had (what they thought) was a consensual sexual encounter, but the following day the other student suddenly claimed that they were intoxicated or otherwise didn’t provide consent? While these students may also need a safe place to talk about their experiences, they face the same danger that what they talk about online is not truly anonymous. If either their story, or that of the “victim” in this situation, becomes public, these students suddenly face the prospect of being seen as a sexual predator on campus.

In Hamilton, the musical’s namesake bemuses, “Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Unfortunately, the faux safety net of online chat rooms may cause some students to plant seeds they never want to grow. Regardless of your role, anonymous chat rooms may not always be the safe place they are advocated to be, and your reputation can suffer as a result.

KJK has an entire practice group dedicated to Student & Athlete Defense, including Title IX claims. If your participation in an anonymous chat room did more harm than good, reach out to Susan Stone at 216.736.7220 or scs@kjk.com or Kristina Supler at 216.736.7217 or kws@kjk.com.


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