NEW YORK – A student has been outed as the operator of a New York University blog that was a forum for students and others to make anonymous comments and snipes about the school and people.
Senior Aristotelis Orginos said he founded the site NYU Secrets with the goal of uniting a huge and disparate student body in an online space where everything from race relations to suicidal thoughts to bad hangovers could be talked about openly.
But now the tables were turned on him when his identity was revealed by a fellow student, Kelly Weill, who is studying journalism and who edits a rival blog at the school.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Orginos was unmasked last month, setting off a furor of debate over his site, the revealing of his name and online anonymity and civil discourse.
“All I wanted was for NYU to be seen as a place with a big community,” Orginos told the WJF in an interview from the Greenwich Village Starbucks where he has run the site. “I didn’t want this to turn into a hate-speech platform.”
The website resembles others that have emerged across the country, including at Rutgers University in New Jersey, offering students and faculty a space to share information about themselves and their schools on the sites, which are overseen by an anonymous moderator.
NYU Secrets, founded at the Manhattan-based university in 2012, offered an online community to some 50,000 NYU students world-wide. For many, the site has been “the place people let their hair down,” said sophomore Hannah Weverka.
The site grew to thousands of daily readers, according to Orginos, transforming from a word-of-mouth novelty to a go-to campus source for daily updates on any number of topics. Recent posts show students complaining about a campus coffee shop, discussing their memories of 9/11 and feeling lonely while studying abroad.
But some students are taking issue with the site’s oversight.
“These people could say whatever they want—sexist, racist, transphobic—with a total lack of accountability,” Weill, who is the editor of student-run school blog NYU Local told the Journal.
Her article on Orginos identified him and describes his writing on Reddit, a news-oriented social network that also allows anonymous postings. There, he would “lash out at NYU Secrets users, particularly women,” “argue that many rape accusations are false” and “dismiss a gender wage gap,” she wrote.
Orginos said Weill mischaracterized his politics, and that he has acted as an unbiased moderator. He said he isn’t a sexist and that he believes men and women should be paid equally. At the same time, he said of his Reddit work, “Some days I’m angry, and I say things I don’t mean.”
Weill warned students to be careful about spilling secrets to a stranger and then expecting him to fair-mindedly moderate an influential campus resource.
Orginos said he has edited Secrets to allow for candor on all sides of an issue: “No decisions were made on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, politics or anything I’m leaving out.” In fact, he said, “sometimes I post things that make my stomach turn.”
While applauded by many at NYU, Weill’s criticism prompted others to accuse her of trying to take down a rival blog and she was the target of a particularly profane response.
Orginos fears that now students know his identity, it will be harder to serve as a moderator, making people feel more comfortable sharing their innermost thoughts with a stranger.
“Anonymity has a storied relationship with American democracy,” Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law professor who co-founded the school’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society told the newspaper.
“It’s a way for the powerless and disadvantaged to speak without fear of repercussion. Of course, that same lack of repercussion can make for a license for abusive behavior.”
Orginos said he plans to stay the course and the school administration so far is staying out of the fight.