Snapchat account shows student life at UW

 

At first glance, the underground world of uwmadison_snaps is a surreal experience. For those not familiar, the account operates on the popular social media platform Snapchat, a venue for sharing photos with friends or, on occasion, teeming hordes of anonymous followers. The photos are either (effectively) erased after one view or, if they’re uploaded as a “story,” all your followers can view them for the duration of 24 hours. Needless to say, the app quickly became a sex thing. 

Well, not so much an exclusive and de facto sex thing as a general means of unpunishable debauchery. After all, plenty goes on daily in an individual’s life that society at large, hypocritical or not, would wag a foreboding finger at—when given the option, why not share your Dionysian side with the people who won’t judge you? 

uwmadison_snaps, much like @UWConfessions (though hopefully not too much like @UWConfessions), takes the idea of collegiate anonymity and encourages it through the lens of the temporality Snapchat promises. People can take snapchats, either photo or video, and send them to the individual running the account who then selects their personal favorites and uploads them to the account for, presumably, some several thousand people to gawk over.

What you get depends on when you view the account’s amassed story. Just like on campus itself, a strange dichotomy exists between the endless wasteland of weekdays and the brief but caustic flash of the weekends. Last week Monday, for instance, I woke up to snaps of a similar experience: people getting ready for class, moaning about Mondays, watching the sun rise over Mendota and even insisting that people submit pictures of animals to brighten the mood of the community at large. And lo and behold, the community responded. Tens, if not over hundreds, of different pictures of puppies, potbellied pigs, hedgehogs, snakes and the like almost immediately began to flow through the account. 

It was heartwarming for obvious reasons, but also because it made me feel as though a bodiless voice shouted into the abyss and all of Madison rose to respond. It felt like an actual community, interconnected in a more visceral way than something like Facebook or Twitter could ever muster.

The weekends however are a completely different animal. I was introduced to uwmadison_snaps this past Friday night and was initially appalled at what I saw: copious amounts of drug possession and consumption, lewd jokes, intense drinking, a startling number of nude (and mostly female) selfies and a general display of depravity unseen in channels of interaction. My initial reaction wasn’t necessarily one of moral judgement—that’s a different question entirely—but rather one of genuine shock. Of course these are things we know are going on around campus: kids smoke weed, kids drink, kids have sex, women are naked under their clothes and so on. But they’re things we don’t ever talk about. They’re things that American society, Puritan roots and all, have suggested are best swept under the rug rather than addressed. 

Then when I saw all those darling pictures of dogs (as well as people studying, watching TV, joking with their friends, and, yes, still a fair amount of drinking, smoking and getting incredibly naked), it all sort of clicked for me. I find uwmadison_snaps fascinating exactly for what it is—a view of the campus that approaches some new level of relatively unbiased representation.  

Of course, there are limiters in place; submissions are resigned to people who are financially capable of owning smartphones as well as people invested in the six seconds of fame promised by submission and there’s also clearly some degree of male gaze presiding over the whole affair, as evidenced from the copious female nudes and the (relative) lack of male nudes. Even with these in place though, uwmadison_snaps achieves something incredible—it shows the campus not as we want to be seen by shaming eyes but, with photographic proof, as we actually sometimes are. 

This is wonderful for several reasons, most of all witnessing a sense of real communal empathy online. This is something we have yet to truly experience from an Internet experience due to the pesky immortality of Facebook photos and Twitter posts and the risk of ever-prying eyes. 

At the same time, it also provides an intriguing look into the psychology of today’s youth. Why are all of us so willing to document things we know employers, parents, police, judges and the government could find reprehensible and broadcast to the world at large? Snapchat may be unique in its ephemerality, but it isn’t perfect—anyone with Snapchat themselves can follow the account, see the photos and videos and record them for future incriminating evidence. 

So what is it? Do we trust a community because it has UW-Madison in its name? Do we have so much blind faith in a fellow Badger to not abuse the streams of photos they receive on a Saturday night? Do we believe in the promise of Snapchat anonymity or have we even become so indoctrinated in technology-incited permanence to just not care anymore? Or are we all just too young and dumb to care?

Given this, there’s certainly a degree of ethical considerations that are perhaps going unnoticed amidst all the revelry. Most of all, the campus-wide broadcast of compromising photos sent in by third parties, held in the hands of a presumably apathetic individual. So you take a picture of your friend passed out naked and send it to uwmadison_snaps and suddenly it’s broadcast to all of campus—what then? Is it a violation of privacy? Does the individual behind the account have the right to post pictures of these individuals without their given consent? Minor optimist I am, I still hope this potential for abuse will eventually be addressed either systemically or by the moderator, but until then I suggest we all be wary of the possible ethical transgressions when submitting content. 

Whatever the case, uwmadison_snaps serves as an incredible new front on youth rebellion, an astonishing and hopefully repercussion-free release of what it means for a lot of people to be a student on campus. It’s not exciting necessarily for its content, but by the drive and catharsis behind it. Problematic or not, there’s something beautiful at the roots of this whole mess, and hopefully something equally beautiful will eventually bloom from it.

Cameron is the graphics editor for The Daily Cardinal. Please send all of your feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

 

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