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The Dartmouth
June 13, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Woodward: An Ode to Fribble

Dearest Reader,

Please forgive my apparent digression into the realm of the inane with this particular piece — having found the topics of administrator relations, collegiate progress and excessive grade inflation all too heavy of late, I instead thought it prudent to write on something less exhaustively debated.

For those of you who have read a column on The Dartmouth’s website and happened to scroll down to the bottom of the page where the Disqus comments are found, you have undoubtedly read the bombastic, belligerent and often incoherent commentary penned under the moniker “fribble.” He or she or they — I know not which — enjoys harpooning many us for our ideas and revels in the exercise of trashing the College, its administrators, its supposed Kool-Aid drinking automaton populace and our institution’s efforts to better itself. Without fail, fribble comments on nearly every article or column that could in some way be construed as revealing, or arguing for, the integrity of Dartmouth’s character.

An interesting pen name to be sure — to share one’s name with an iconic Friendly’s dessert drink. I can’t help but draw a corollary between the relative lucidity of the author’s words and the amorphous, blob-like consistency of the drink in question. Indeed, fribble’s Disqus profile indicates that the person in question has made over 27,000 comments on articles across the internet, primarily taking an interest in the affairs of The Dartmouth opinion section and the website “Politico,” which covers domestic politics.

When it comes to critiquing the logical consistency and Dartmouth-centric arguments that appear day-to-day in both my columns and those of fellow opinion staff members, contributors or guests, fribble’s comments are often aggressive and callous, and they betray a spitefulness that precludes any plausible claims to morality or objectivity. Such comments, predictable in their tone and content, do not push the debate forward — they are white noise in the background of a community trying to have an honest conversation, serving as a mere distraction or even a leech on the progress of collective public discourse.

I feel as though devoting the entirety of a 700-word column to the commentary of one anonymous online contributor — contributor being used in a generous sense here — would indicate a shallow concern for my own journalistic integrity. I won’t assume the liberty to write such a piece here. I would, however, like to connect the story of fribble to a broader epidemic that has recently pervaded the dialogue not only at the College, but in the world at large.

We, as human beings, are bearers of the burdens of our own progress — technological advancements that brought about internet forums and the recent development of various social media have led to the proliferation of anonymous interactions. Conversations in which people see fit to hide behind monikers or nicknames have unfortunately become inevitable in discussion forums like The Dartmouth comments section and Bored at Baker or, worse, in mediums without registered users like Yik Yak, where no comment, no post, no up or down vote is tied to any person’s account. We have precipitated and perpetuated a culture in which we are not held accountable for our words and are reckless with our opinions, and verbal cruelty without impunity abounds. Such a culture cannot continue if we want to catalyze meaningful discussion. If we want to change the landscape and the status quo of the topics that mean the most to us, we must do so by standing up for our ideas and opinions with dignity and the honor that comes with visible ownership of our words.

So, to the endearing and predictable fribble, as well as all commenters and internet users out there who feel the need to mask their true selves for the sole purpose of disavowing personal ownership of their opinions — I have a proposal. I’ve put my name on this column and am not afraid to couple my opinions with my person, and now I invite not only fribble to enter the realm of mature, mutually respectful dialogue between two people — or rather, between a community and its resident naysayer — but also everyone else who lurks in the shadows of anonymity to step into the light.