Online forums hurt USC’s reputation, student image

Standing proud in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, USC boasts top-rated academic programs, a football team that seizes Rose Bowl titles and a student body that is active in more than 260 university-sponsored community service programs. Not to mention those “A” rankings for our drool-worthy dudes and gorgeous girls, according to College Prowler.

The responsibility of maintaining USC’s celebrated image starts with double-checking the messages that we, undergraduate students, are sending into the public sphere for our friends, other members of the Trojan family and the world to see.

Upon returning home for Thanksgiving, many students are greeted by overzealous relatives who are a bit too keen to plant a sloppy kiss on your cheek. During these awkward encounters, a discrete opportunity to spread positive word-of-mouth about USC arises with the simple question: “How do you like college?”

Most Trojans will fervently argue that USC is superior to all other schools in the nation — nay, the world — by citing our victorious football team, our stellar academics, our accessibility to the diverse and exciting experiences Los Angeles has to offer and preternaturally good weather.

Aggressive cheek-kissing relatives will gladly accept many a canned response.

But these shouts of praise often change when we walk away from the table after Thanksgiving dinner and open our laptops. The rise of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, has made it easier for disgruntled students to complain about life on campus.

Firing off a status update takes less than 30 seconds, and it seems many of these students who say they love USC will also publish messages that reflect negatively upon the university and tarnish its reputation.

The difference is because of the decreased verbal and face-to-face communication that Tweeting, status updates and message boards provide. One would be hard-pressed to find another student with enough cajones to stand up in the middle of a lecture in Taper Hall and scream, “I hate my organic chemistry professor. FML!” But, many have no reservations about publishing this message online for their 1,000 dedicated followers to read.

A false sense of safety and anonymity results in similar situations — with more painful outcomes — on gossip sites such as Collegeacb is JuicyCampus’ annoying little sister that became popular after the gossip monster-mill shut down in February. The website is using its increased traffic to carry on the legacy of tasteless threads dedicated to slandering students, with comments published by the victims’ friends and classmates. Rude posts allow for anyone with an Internet connection to read gossip that misrepresents our school.

It is reasonable for college students to feel insecure, as they are living away from home for the first time and are thrown into a foreign environment. It becomes unreasonable when we teens and 20-somethings, legal adults, fight that insecurity by waxing poetic about other people’s private sexual activities on trashy gossip sites.

Statistics show that unattractive posts on social networking sites can not only affect a college’s reputation, but also its matriculants. A student poll published by College Board and Art and Science Group shows that 18 percent of students use Facebook or similar sites to aid in their college search.

Negative comments ultimately end up reflecting more negatively upon the person who wrote it, and the groups they associate with — like USC — instead of the person for whom the vile words were initially intended.

One way to create positive change in the social networking culture that is stuck fostering hateful relationships on college campuses would be to utilize the Internet to organize people committed to improving our campus.

Facebook groups such as URSC’s “Operation: Spice up EVK” have the right idea, and are using the Internet as a forum for productive discussions that are helping increase the quality of USC’s on-campus dining.

If more student groups use Facebook and message boards to achieve goals that will vitalize USC in its continued growth, our campus will adopt a culture that is more motivating and conducive to our success and satisfaction.

Students must commit themselves to the same level of excellence that USC strives for, and part of that means that we must monitor what we publish to make sure that we are encouraging each other and respecting our university.

Kelsey Clark is a sophomore majoring in chemistry.