Obscure social networking app causes problems at Bates College

Mar. 13—LEWISTON — A little-known social networking app is causing such a stir at Bates College that it has even caused some students to leave Lewiston.

The college president is urging Bates' 1,800 students to stop relying on an app called Blind Tiger because some are using it to "demean and humiliate others through misogynistic, body-shaming, antisemitic, and anti-Arab comments, sometimes pointed at specific individuals, all behind a veil of cowardly anonymity."

In a letter to the campus newspaper, The Bates Student, college President Garry Jenkins said that Bates has "a problem. It's Blind Tiger."

Jenkins said that most students who use the social networking app are posting only "innocuous messages" but some are hateful.

Blind Tiger was created four years ago by a Vanderbilt University engineering student, Dante Delgado, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

On the Apple app store, Blind Tiger bills itself as "a must-have app for college students" to "share your thoughts, rate organizations, and promote events all on a private feed for your school."

It's been widely used by students at Bates almost since it became available.

A 2021 article in The Bates Student said, "Blind Tiger is everyone's favorite — or least favorite, depending on who you ask — guilty pleasure app."

"It first rose to popularity on campus during the in-room quarantine" in April 2021, "when we were confined to our rooms, extremely depressed and bored," the story said.

"As a safe space to vent anonymously, it became almost like a support group while students were otherwise feeling incredibly isolated," the story said. "At its best, Blind Tiger is essentially a big Bates student group chat."

Last spring, the student newspaper ran a piece about its impact on the college community.

"The image of a tiger adorns the screens of many Bates students' phones, anonymous posts flowing in every few minutes," the story said.

"At first glance, the app can appear harmless, but upon further examination, it's clear that some users abuse Blind Tiger's anonymity," wrote Hannah Kothari, then a sophomore serving as digital editor of the paper.

"Sure, many of the posts simply consist of students expressing their feelings about campus happenings, but occasionally, posts will contain full names of students," often containing false information or perpetuating rumors, the story said.

"We are better than this," Jenkins wrote.

The presence of "vile posts," he said, "affects student mental health" and is "scarring our peers."

"It undermines a sense of belonging for those targeted," Jenkins said, and is "even causing students to leave our community."

"It only takes a few people — a few awful posts — to poison the well for us all. What some might prefer to view as a casual display of snark is causing real and serious damage. That's what cyberbullying does," he said.

Jenkins said it might be best if "we all delete Blind Tiger altogether."

"Any expert would advise that if a particular social media forum is not serving our personal (or collective) interests, then the best approach is to stop engaging with it," he said.

"Such apps thrive on attention, so perhaps one way to end its hold on us is to stop posting to it, stop talking about it, stop sharing it with friends, and stop being a voyeur," Jenkins said.

The college president, who took the helm last summer, said Bates' "in-person community is special and beautifully supportive, and I hate to see this app used to undermine it. "

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