Verbum Ultimum: Let Librex Die

With Librex gone, it’s up to students to leave the app — and all it stood for — in Dartmouth’s past.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 2/25/22 4:15am

by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

On Feb. 17, Librex — an app that allowed users from Dartmouth and other elite schools to post anonymously for all their peers to see — announced that the platform would be permanently shut down. This news sent shockwaves throughout the community. While some mourned the loss of a way to stay connected to Dartmouth culture, others celebrated the permanent end of the app. Why? Throughout its history, Librex allowed students to objectify peers, mock their friends and even target individual students with slurs. We cheer its end, and that of the harmful discourse it enabled — but we also caution the Dartmouth community against allowing yet another iteration of a venomous, anonymous app to rise from Librex’s ashes. 

Since its inception in March 2020, Librex proved corrosive to the community and has contributed to a breakdown in social norms and trust across Dartmouth. Although the app claimed to prohibit the targeting of individuals, users frequently circumvented this guideline by referring to individuals by their initials and class years, leading to frequent attacks on Dartmouth students — especially those in the public eye. 

Indeed, Librex poisoned the discourse of each Student Assembly election that took place during its existence. During the campaign period of the May 2020 Student Assembly elections, the app was awash with posts publicly and heinously attacking student candidates. One post referred to SA vice president candidate María Teresa Hidalgo ’22 as “speaking from the slums of South America.” Another post compared Hidalgo and her running mate, Olivia Audsley ’21, to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. During last year’s election, the same sort of hate speech against SA candidates was widespread on the app, with “racist microagressions” and “racist attacks launched against the Khan-Muñoz Student Assembly campaign.” 

Students running for office weren’t the only ones targeted by Librex users. Student workers at Novack Cafe have been derided on the app in “thinly veiled racist comments” for their choice of music playing at the cafe. Student journalists — including several members of this Editorial Board — have faced personal, targeted attacks for their work at The Dartmouth. Members of Epsilon Kappa Theta were targeted on the platform this past summer, with posts suggesting that the sorority “should be derecognized for trying to ban pong” — an unfounded claim resulting from speculation following the cancellation of the Masters pong tournament  — and even making explicit threats that led to the Hanover police department increasing patrols. 

In its two years at Dartmouth, Librex also served to normalize and perpetuate misogyny and racism on Dartmouth’s campus. Along with attacking student candidates “on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds,” posters on the app frequently made degrading comments about the physical appearance of students, often denigrating students of all gender identities — but predominantly women — as nothing more than sexual objects. Users also partook in racist discourse that took hold across the country during the pandemic, referring to COVID-19 as both the “Kung Flu” and “Chinavirus.” 

Some argue that Librex, despite its harmful discourse, was a net positive for the community. At the very least, this argument goes, the app helped to shed light on hateful ideas, allowing the Dartmouth community to tackle issues head-on. And indeed, the app did see occasional bright spots, such as posts by students offering mental health advice or making tributes to the students who died last year. But broken clocks are right twice a day; most of the time, Librex did not lead to constructive discussion and reconciliation. 

Librex was not original. Whether we like it or not, anonymous discussion platforms have had a consistent presence in the Dartmouth community in recent years. YikYak, a nationwide platform, prevailed at Dartmouth in 2014, and Bored at Baker, a Dartmouth-specific platform, took root a mere year later. As with Librex, these apps damaged the community; the latter was shut down in December 2016 due to numerous incidents, including lynching threats and rape guides. 

Ultimately, Librex and its predecessors are not the root of the problem. After all, we as a community have the choice to simply not engage with these anonymous vehicles for racism, misogyny and hate. That we repeatedly choose to do so speaks volumes. While we cannot change our community overnight, every Dartmouth student has a responsibility to try. In the short term, this starts with confronting bigotry where we see it and avoiding apps that foster socially destructive discourse. 

In their farewell message to the Librex community, the founders of Librex alluded to plans to pursue new, “bigger” endeavors. While we don’t yet know what these plans involve, we urge the Librex founders not to pursue any expansion of the app, or any similar anonymous platform. We also urge Dartmouth students to avoid the next Librex — already, within less than a week, at least two platforms have popped up in an attempt to fill the noxious void. Ignore them. Let the concept of Librex die. We as a community have participated in this twisted social experiment enough times to know how it ends.