Our Pet Monster

An editorial
by Chris Hibbard
The Meliorist

Our Pet Monster

I’ve been employed at The Meliorist for four years now, since my very first semester at this lovely institution. During that time, many things have changed around here, ranging from new computers to an improved look and layout. In these four years however, I’ve noticed that some things never really seem to change.

Students remain fairly apathetic, contributing rarely and typically only when angry about something. Advertisers tend to buy more ad space during the months of October, November, February and March. We’re rarely taken seriously, yet for some students we are the only source of Lethbridge news. The main thing that never changes though, is the presence of a single page in the middle of the paper that gets read thoroughly every week – unlike most other pages, to my chagrin. I am referring of course, to the Three Lines Free – a page that many readers turn to first, sometimes never turning any further.

I have very mixed feelings about the TLF section of this paper.

I appreciate it as a forum for students to vent, communicate, joke around, flirt and briefly speak their minds. For these reasons, I consider the page to be invaluable. Provided that students continue to peruse it and submit their own little thoughts, I don’t foresee the TLF page ever disappearing.

This year alone, I’ve observed the TLFs as they allowed the student body to express their rage about the last provincial election results. I’ve allowed classified ads to appear (disguised as TLFs), with the hopes that maybe some student can sell his skateboard or find a new roommate. I’ve watched campus clubs and organizations promote their fundraisers or political agendas. I’ve personally intervened on a few occasions; assisting one TLF author in ‘hooking’ up with another; helping one young lady find places in town to sing karaoke, and reassuring one ‘poet’ that his real identity is safe with me.

Which brings me to my next point. The TLF page also irks me to no end, partly due to the fact that it is the most popular page in the paper, thereby forsaking the work of a whole editorial team, and partly due to its anonymous nature.

It is as simple as a click of a button to submit a TLF to the paper and one doesn’t even need to be a student to do so. We don’t require you to submit your names or phone numbers, and the only way we know who you are is if you send your TLF via your Uleth email account. I’ll admit that some times we censor the section. I feel that we have to, not just for legal reasons, but ethical ones as well. We’ll remove TLFs that are particularly slanderous and cruel to one individual, i.e. hate mail and death threats. We’ll refuse to run TLFs that are simply racist, sexist, discriminatory or homophobic. We’ll sometimes choose not to publish TLFs that promote one political partys agenda to the exclusion of all others. Likewise, we try not to affiliate ourselves with any one religious group. But other than that, this strange, humorous and sometimes borderline offensive forum creates itself – thanks to you students who choose to write in under this promised shroud of anonymity.

Anonymity is not really a right that we can claim to have as Canadians, North Americans, or humans. We may claim freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and a right to privacy, but I don’t think we can claim the right to bombard others with our opinions with no fear of repercussions as a right we hold.

Yet anonymity allows for such written ‘rocks’ to be thrown in any direction. It allows for us to shirk our humanity, morality, pity and mercy that we typically claim to hold so dear.
While I am an optimist who believes that humans are inherently good, anonymity brings out the worst in us.

Protected by anonymity, we are not subject to law, geographical restrictions, and have absolutely no obligation to show respect to others by acknowledging both sides of an argument.
In knowing one’s identity is protected, we feel free to exploit anyone or anything that we deem as being weak or flawed.

For better or worse, anonymity frees us from our inhibitions, encouraging us to write things that we would never think of saying to someone on the phone, let alone in person, thereby shirking taboos and crossing invisible conservative lines in the process.

We can be assured by anonymity that our inner thoughts are safe being exposed, and that our questions or confessions will not be used against us.

I think it is a good thing to have this little spot in our paper that students can use. It is truly cathartic to get our feelings out through expression once in a while, especially without any serious controls, protocols, or hoops of political correctness to jump through.

However, there is a small minority of people who use anonymity as an excuse for bullying, harassment, disclosure of other peoples embarrassing secrets or dirty laundry and so on.
I find this to be both mildly unsettling and somewhat ironic.

Our society now has two very different standards for trust and communication. In the real world, we tend to be skeptical of others, preferring to stay reserved, shy, and not call attention to ourselves. But in the TLFs (and in online blogging as well I might add), we let our guards down and will say anything to anyone – just because we feel like it.

Some of the TLF postings we receive leave little to the imagination: relating who slept with whom, who struck out at the bar, and who talks too much in class.

These sorts of comments perpetuate themselves, and the TLF page becomes a little society all in itself, one composed of inside jokes, cultural clashes, heated debates and philosophical musings. It reminds me sometimes of dandelions on the lawn – one week we’ll see one little weed pop up – i.e. a one-liner bashing someone who smells funny, and the next week there are four more about body odor and bathroom hygiene.

To be honest, I really don’t know what to think of the TLF section, our little pet monster – even after all these years.

Is anonymity the protector of both privacy and expression? Or is it merely the antithesis of genuine discourse and communication?

Stepping back from it a bit, I see using anonymous sources as being common practice in the journalism business. Hell, as far as a literary tradition is concerned, anonymity stems all the way back to the Bible – a book which, if I’m not mistaken, contains some virtuous direction about ‘doing unto others’. I’m not really an expert by any means, but something tells me this golden rule doesn’t stop applying when ones identity is anonymous.


~ by Chris Hibbard on October 31, 2008.

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