On Sidechat, Greek-life banter war borders on ‘harassment’

hand holding phone with Sidechat app open
Sidechat, the Reddit-like forum for university communities, is completely anonymous, giving a platform to what some say are problematic opinions and the harassment of certain fraternities and sororities on campus. (Tomoki Chien | Daily Trojan)

Nearly a year after its launch, Sidechat remains a hub for USC gossip and happenings around campus, but some students are beginning to question the platform’s morality, as it facilitates a warzone of Greek life banter.

Sidechat is a Reddit-like social media platform that allows students from participating universities to access a private community forum for their school. All users are anonymous and can post discussion threads, text and images without identifying themselves.

Under the guise of anonymity, students are free to post whatever they want with no threat of consequence. While the platform aims to promote lighthearted discussion and community bonding, discussions can border on harassment, according to Lindsey Walton, a freshman majoring in business administration.

“If you’re looking for a new and creative form of self-harm try dating a Lambda,” one post read, followed by “They will Fowell [sic] you (probably bc they could do better).” Then another user replied “(Probably bc y’all like boys)” before slewing additional homophobic remarks at the original poster.

Sidechat’s motto of anonymity extends to the company’s communication. The creators and origin of the app are unknown and they declined the Daily Trojan’s request for comment. The company offers limited information on its website except for a short list of community guidelines and legal information. The homepage reads a single phrase: “Your college’s private community.”

Among university news, memes and reported party fouls, the most popular topic of discussion on the USC page surrounds fraternities and sororities. Walton, a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority, said while it was initially funny, the Greek slander is repetitive and uninspired.

“I know everybody has their individual opinions about Greek life, but the teasing on Sidechat can sometimes be a bit offensive,” Walton said. “I know my sorority has specifically been teased — all sororities have been teased, same with the frats — but when it is constantly jokes about sororities and fraternities, it gets a little bit annoying.”

Sidechat’s community guidelines prohibit anything that can be interpreted as bullying or harassment towards individuals or groups. The app also forbids trolling and any content that instigates fighting. The posts allowed on the USC page are seemingly inconsistent with this policy.

The app also protects identities by removing posts that call out specific individuals. While targeting groups is prohibited according to its guidelines, fraternity and sorority posts usually stay up.

“[Sigma Nu] tonight,” one post read, pointing to a picture of Bill Cosby. Commenters defended the fraternity, accusing other Greek organizations of sexual assault.

Walton said she believes rumors spread through Sidechat affected sorority retention rates. Pledge classes have continued to shrink significantly, Walton said, due to the Greek ranking system and pressure to join a top sorority — an issue heightened by rumors spread on Sidechat.

“Everyone in the rush process made it very clear not to get your information from Sidechat,” Walton said. “The rush process is supposed to fit you with a sorority … and when you’re getting influenced by other people’s opinions of, ‘I don’t like this sorority,’ or, ‘I don’t like that sorority,’ you might become disheartened by personal opinions and drop them or rank them lower.”

Daniel Stone, a freshman majoring in business administration, thinks Sidechat is relatively harmless. He said students should maintain a sense of humor and remember not to take posts seriously.

“Sidechat has really strict guidelines surrounding name-dropping on their platform, which makes it really hard to [target someone]” Stone said. “It’s never explicitly attacking one person in particular … We’re all mature enough to know it’s just teasing and not making fun of each other.”

Sidechat, Stone said, could serve as a tool instead of a weapon. While many posts involve lighthearted teasing, others involve asking questions, offering advice and informing students about current events and campus-related issues.

Ally Kustera, a freshman majoring in game design, said Sidechat brings the community closer by drawing attention to issues at USC and creating a sense of self-awareness through humor.

“It makes light of some unfortunate situations like Shryft, scooters and money issues,” Kustera said. “It shows all the different types of people that go to USC and how we’re viewed as this ‘University of Spoiled Children’ … like [a picture of] a girl dripped out in full Louis Vouitton in class. People make fun of that. There is clearly a sense of self-awareness.”

Stone said Sidechat can continue to be a resource for students as a place to seek advice or offer a few quick laughs, so long as people take them with a grain of salt.

“It’s kind of like the little inside jokes about USC or puns about things that are happening on campus that students want to make fun of,” Stone said. “It’s a fun way to find avenues of humor.”

The USC Panhellenic Council, Lambda Chi Alpha and Sigma Nu did not answer the Daily Trojan’s request for comment in time for publication. University Park Interfraternity Council President Carter McCarroll said that while the organization recognized the value in a platform such as Sidechat, it makes it easy for users to talk negatively about others.

“UPIFC believes in allowing all USC students to freely express their opinion,” said McCarrol in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “Unfortunately, we’ve recognized that the price of anonymity is that some will use it to post in an effort to belittle or denigrate others or organizations.”