Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Implicit Bias and Juicy Campus

In preparation for my Race and Politics course this fall semester, I've brushed up on the latest work out there on social desirability bias. The general idea is that we harbor implicitly biased views about other groups that we do not share implicitly lest we run afoul of social norms.

The web can provide a safe space for unleashing these implicit biases. One such place where college students can vent their implicit biases is Juicy Campus. A piece in the latest issue of Radar features the controversy over the site's content. The founder of the site seemed to have innocuous intentions:
We thought people might talk about what happened at some fraternity party last weekend, or to rank sororities. That sort of thing," he insists. "And if you look, you'll definitely find those fun stories. And then there's a bunch more stuff that we didn't realize people would use the site for.
But the site has turned into a dustbin of offensive, unsubstantiated accusations and slurs:
promiscuity, drug abuse, plastic surgery, homosexuality, rape, and eating disorders, along with enough racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic invective to make David Duke blanch—that seems to generate the majority of the page views.
I first heard of this site from a student in my Community Development class last semester. What struck me (perhaps it shouldn't have) is how graphic the comments were on the site. I can remember hearing some pretty graphic stuff in my own college days, but I couldn't imagine the desire to make such comments public. I suppose that is the point, social networking sites make the private immediately public. Devices like cell phones with SMS technologies and sites like Twitter allow you to post your impulses. I wonder how many of the posts on this juicy campus site are infused with alcohol or other drugs. What social networking and participatory culture allows us to do is to be on-line in the moment. But to me the unanswered question is whether is simply captures a moment of unvarnished racism or sexism, or does it encourage the creation of routines that support further exposition of offensive views?

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