The Sidechat Sensation: Tufts’ Marketplace of Inane Ideas
Sidechat is Tufts’ newest social media fixation: any individual with a Tufts email can sign up and start posting anonymously, posting anything, be it memes about Dewick chicken, jokes suggesting Tufts parties increase one’s rice purity score or admissions of loneliness. The new anonymous platform, similar in form and function to ask.fm and Yik Yak, has started to outshine these long-standing pages. Before Sidechat, most students took to Instagram and Facebook to mock Tufts-specific experiences: Rejected from Brown? Worried about having intense bowel movements whilst studying at Tisch? Terrified of the Dewick vegan cutlet?
As college-aged students collectively face issues over who they are, how they behave, and how they impact others, Sidechat offers a cathartic way to express these concerns on a localized level. Posts about highly specific yet common experiences like choosing a testing center scanner or trying to use Markit make students feel less alone. Sophomore Pablo Duran said, “I think when I’m reading Sidechat [posts]… it’s like oh my god, I’m not the only one here.”
Sidechat doesn’t necessarily change the way students interact with each other in person, but it develops a sense of interconnectedness on campus. Sophomore Caitlin Walsh said, “I think [Sidechat] builds community in a theoretical sense… It’s not going to increase my sense of community in who I interact with… but it will make me feel closer to the general student population of Tufts University. I feel like I’m more in touch, and I have more in common with [Tufts students] than I expected.” Sidechat offers an untraditional, as well as a sometimes absurd and explicit, means of community building.
Sophomore Maddy Porter said her favorite thing about Sidechat was that she could post her “absolutely unhinged thoughts without having [her] name attached to them—not that they are damaging to anyone or mean thoughts, they’re just kind of deranged, and the optics of putting them on [her] Instagram story wouldn’t be good.” While Sidechat may be primarily comedic in function, there is also an almost out-of-place tenderness in some of the posts. Some students post about feeling alone, unworthy, or adrift, and the majority of responses are messages of kindness and support. Many Sidechat posts and interactions validate one another’s experiences by affirming that college is difficult, that Tufts is difficult, but that there are ways through it, even if it’s through small acts of kindness, like showing up for anonymous strangers in a reply post on Sidechat.
Memes and crude posts, however, have offered their own form of community support for Tufts students on and off Sidechat. Tufts affirmations (@tuftsaffirmations) posts bright and simple, 2010s era memes about the Tufts experience. Tufts affirmations’ popularity is similar to Sidechat in that its engagement surged within a matter of days, and the account quickly gained the attention of Tufts undergraduates. However, to many of the students interviewed, @tuftsaffirmations is no longer in the same ballpark as Sidechat. According to sophomore Thea Trosclair, there’s a unique appeal to Sidechat. “When Sidechat came out, I was like wow… this is [such] a community thing. Everyone is posting and everyone is responding, it’s not just liking memes.”
Posts receiving large upvotes and downvotes tend to be jokes about the most up-to-date events at Tufts. Following President Anthony Monaco’s announcement of resignation, Sidechats posts commenting and mocking Monaco began to accumulate by the dozens. Trosclair explained that, through Sidechat, “I feel like I know a lot more stuff that’s going on in this school… like I found out about Tony Monaco retiring from Sidechat before I saw the email.” When, during the week of February 13th, Tufts students were placed in either the Modular Residential Units (Mods) or the overflow COVID hotel as a result of a spike in COVID cases, Sidechat users commented on the topic: “The Mods are like a petting zoo, but you can’t even pet them,” and “the mods [are] a greater social experiment than [Too Hot To Handle].” Pablo Duran explained, “[Sidechat is] what’s happening right now, the memes are the moment, you know.”
Unlike other Tufts-specific social media pages, Sidechat offers users the ability to post instantaneously and anonymously, creating a sense of authenticity. Prior to Sidechat, other accounts functioned mostly through the efforts of an administrator, who filtered content to ensure that posts adhere to the page’s standards. Sidechat posts, however, are not beholden to any figure of authority. The issue of anonymity brings up a clear problem that other online profiles do not have. In order for Sidechat to run as smoothly as other pages, Tufts students must be effectively able to self-monitor their own posts as well as their anonymous interactions with others. According to Trosclair, “everything has been in the hands of a bunch of 19-year-olds.” If there are no larger facilitator(s) at work, then the students must become responsible for the virtual public space that has been created by Sidechat.
Sidechat posts are ever-updating reflections of the moods and thoughts of Tufts students, but that means the posts are also reactionary. After Tufts reinstated COVID regulations, there were multiple aggressive and harmful posts and arguments on sidechat attacking immuno-compromised students and those with chronic health issues. Some attempted to blame them for the tightening of COVID protocols. Trosclair explained, “People are saying things that they wouldn’t be able to say if they were showing face or having their name attached.” Sidechat may have begun innocently as a platform to air out engineering majors as romantically challenged and other trivial concerns, but now its role for the Tufts community is unclear.
Sidechat exemplifies how Tufts students can create connections online, showcasing the benefits and risks that exist within any community. Tufts students are responsible for navigating this balance through the relationships they build, the news they react to, and the memes they share.