By Tom Quach
Librex, a fully anonymous discussion platform tailored to college communities, opened to Stanford students on March 25 after launching at all eight Ivy League universities and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Created by Yale senior Ryan Schiller, Librex arrives on campus with several successes and controversies behind its name. The Stanford-only community includes over 400 users as of mid-April.
Within the app, valid users with approved University emails can create a post, tag it to a relevant topic, comment, upvote or downvote and send direct messages — all anonymously, and so long as they are within the standards of the platform’s content policy. Schiller said that everything on the app is encrypted and emails are just used to verify every user who joins is a Stanford student.
Schiller introduced the app in late 2019 after an encounter with a Yale Global Affairs professor who was hesitant to share personal opinions during class. The goal was to formulate a space where people discussing ideas “could be vulnerable, learn from each other and congregate in a community where ideas are valued,” he said.
Since then, Librex has “created communities of unfettered conversation,” as Schiller puts it.
Librex joins a number of campus conversation forums already used by Stanford students. Stanford Missed Connections (SMC) is one of the most popular venues, operating in a semi-anonymous style, with one central moderator approving posts before they are published on Instagram. “Full anonymity can be incredibly dangerous,” the anonymous manager of the SMC account, wrote to The Daily.
They added that in the past, fully-anonymous spaces have led to racist, elitist, or “unpopular opinions that are unpopular for a reason,” citing the Yik Yak app as an example. Even so, they said that with properly organized moderation and structure, Librex could get past some of these issues.
Librex’s content policy includes four principles: be legal, anonymous, specific and tasteful. It clarifies that harassment, impersonation, doxxing and general attacks on identity groups are unacceptable.
Due to Librex’s complete secrecy, threatening or hateful content has arisen on the platform at other schools. Campus newspaper The Dartmouth reported two instances including posts containing negative language inferring that Chinese people were at fault for COVID-19 and individual targeting of candidates running for a student election.
Schiller said reminders that they share with users to mitigate possible harmful effects are to “talk about ideas and not people” and avoid making general statements against core identity groups that “lack intellectual or artistic merit.”
It’s not all bad. Schiller points to student discussions of mental health and concerns about the future of the pandemic that have taken place on the app. “It is pretty awesome to have a place that helps you organize a unified effort and reach a group community consciousness,” Schiller said.
Though posts can be reported and taken down by volunteer student moderators, some content that violated app policy stayed up for a while before removal, according to The Dartmouth. Currently, users are not allowed to delete posts they publish, but can delete their accounts entirely. Schiller added that if users wanted to, they can direct message student moderators and request a self-post removal.
Rami Awwad ’23 is one of the student moderators for Librex at Stanford, and feels that Stanford’s community will be different and uplifting. After hearing about Schiller’s project and reaching out, Awwad said that he aligns with the platform’s purpose: creating a curated space for students to “be quirky” and share their unique thoughts and passions.
Awwad expects that “with reasonable moderation,” serious issues such as hate speech will be deterred.
Jeff Hancock, the founding director of the Stanford Social Media Lab unaffiliated with Librex, wrote in an email to The Daily that while positives include people disclosing more honestly and intimately without fear of criticism, “the lack of a connection to one’s reputation can lead people to say and act in problematic ways that they wouldn’t when their actions are tied to their identity.”
“For users it is important to focus on what their goals are,” he added. “Try to stick to going on platforms that have a strong content moderation program.”