Behind the screen

MINA OMAR
FEATURES EDITOR

SHAHID MAHDI
CULTURE EDITOR

ASL Compliments was first started with the intention of bettering what the creators called “ASL’s hostile environment.”

The founders of the page believed that it would be extremely beneficial to the High School community. One co-creator explained that they had wanted to create the Compliments account after seeing it successfully applied at other schools. They felt that there was an unfriendly atmosphere often seen at ASL and that the addition of a Compliments page could help to lessen it. “[At ASL] There seems to constantly be a stream of rumors that are going around … but no compliments,” the co-creator said.

The “cliquey” climate of High School was also cited as a rationale for the conception of the group. “We found that the social structure of the school is definitely exclusive, and so this is a way of communicating something good about everyone,” they said.

As it stands now, ASL Compliments has more than 350 friends and has been posting compliments for more than a month. The account caught many students off guard as they began to receive friend requests from this unknown Facebook profile. “I was a little confused,” Momo Steele said. (’14). “I didn’t know what it was. It had ‘ASL’ in the title so it seemed like it was related to school, but I wasn’t sure what it was all about.”

Within the course of three hours, “ASL Compliments” had gathered over 75 friends. Heaps of messages about the account’s identity and whether it was a school-endorsed scheme quickly became a contagion. During school, over the course of the following days, the question on everyone’s mind was, “who is Asl Compliments?”

In the account information window on Facebook, the following message was written: Created anonymously by a few high schoolers, who felt that ASL needs a little more love. Inbox us, or send an anonymous message…about anyone or anything…and we’ll publish them without revealing your name – a silent act of kindness.”

ASL Compliments also operates from a Tumblr page, in which visitors are able to type a compliment into a text box. After a given period of time, provided that the compliment is appropriate for publication, the compliment’s recipient is tagged and the compliment is posted as a status update from ASL Compliments’ Facebook account for everyone to see.

The Tumblr page also accepts questions directed towards the administrators. Many queries praised the person(s) running the system and many also sought to identify who was operating the program, the founders said.

As the account became exponentially popular by the day, the founders decided to talk to Dean of Students Joe Chodl about their operation. “When we first spoke to him about it he said that we should shut it down,” one creator said. “But when we explained what we were trying to do, he agreed that it could be a good idea.”

Chodl soon warmed to the idea. “I really like the idea of students complimenting one another … but I had a hard time understanding how the comments would be filtered,” he said. “I said that if they [could] manage it in such a way that it maintains the character of what they are trying to do, then I would be in support of it.”

The idea of anonymous compliments is not new to the High School. Health Teacher Joy Marchese talks to her students about “filling each others buckets” every year. She encourages students to focus on the small things that either make or break their day. She also asks her students to remember the small things that make their days and then imitate them for others. Chodl is supportive of what Marchese is trying to do but thinks that the act often gets forgotten once students leave school. “What this [forum] provides is a way to incorporate a form that students are using currently and use it in a positive way quickly and easily. There aren’t a whole lot of ways to do that,” he said.

As word of the operation spread to other members of the faculty, Guidance Counselor and Psychology Teacher Lianne Thakur expressed a similar sentiment to Chodl’s. When first stumbling upon news of ASL Compliments’ existence, Thakur’s primary presumption was that the forum was created and run by a member of the faculty. Thakur said she was delighted when she discovered that this compliments scheme was derived from students. “I found it really cool that someone would take it upon themselves to do this,” she said.

Thakur, though supportive of this idea, was particularly concerned with how “veiled sarcasm” may be in the guise of some compliments. “The person who receives a compliment may know that it’s not really a compliment at all, and so hopefully whoever’s running it can see through this,” she said.

That being said, one of the founders of ASL Compliments was confident that he or she would be able to filter compliments that were sent in with negative or mocking intentions. “As we are a part of the ASL community, we felt that we would be able to detect running jokes or backhanded compliments,” a creator said. The number of compliments that were comical in nature was so high that the founders posted a status update clarifying their purpose: “We’re trying to stray away from inside jokes, just because it clogs up a lot of people’s news feeds. We appreciate all the messages, but we’re really a compliments page, not an inside jokes page.”

Due to the online emergence and rapid spread of the page, some students were led to believe that both the page and the blog were components of an elaborate joke.

Anya Mer (’13) said she feels that some students are not taking the page seriously. “I think that some [people] are using the page as a forum to make fun of other students and their friends,” she said.
Other students felt flustered when compliments were being uploaded but not the ones that he or she had sent. “I liked it at first but they seem a bit self-righteous now … because they reject a lot of compliments [I’ve sent] which are genuine and sincere,” Kareem Asfari (’13) said.

The members of ASL Compliments were keen on expressing how difficult it can be to get all the compliments submitted posted in a timely manner as there is no regular timed basis for how often compliments are uploaded to the Facebook page, since the Tumblr is not automated.
The factor that singlehandedly controls ASL Compliments’ process is its anonymity. From its founders’ hidden identities to the compliments themselves, the entire nature of the program bears a resemblance to the veiled identities that millions of teenagers across the world use online. From obscure “threads” and chat-rooms littered across the blogosphere to more prominent websites like Omegle, whose slogan is “Talk to Strangers!”, and Formspring, the concept of anonymity became extremely popular due to one simple mantra: No one can be held accountable.

Thakur said that while the internet can be used for good, it is used for the opposite more often than not. “I think that [anonymity] can be used for evil, especially on many forums on the internet, and there’s a lot of negativity, especially when people say things that they wouldn’t say [in person] otherwise,” she said.

However, the forum in question is one that its creators believe can and will only be used for good. “ASL Compliments” believes that, with students filtering compliments, they can send the message: “You can’t bully on this website, because we’ve designed in to run that way.”
One month since “ASL Compliments” inception, the service doesn’t experience as much online traffic as it used to. “Now that [the congestion] has sort of quieted down, we don’t deal with as many compliments as we used to,” one of the creators said.

Given that the online service is simply doing the job of spreading compliments, faculty members agreed that the entity does not need any official school regulation or affiliation. “There are people, like Ms. Marchese or myself, who’d like to see what exactly is going around, but … I think as long as it continues in the same path that it’s going down, it’s fantastic,” Thakur said.

Chodl agreed with this sentiment, but clarified that if it strayed from the path it is now on it would be removed immediately. “If it started to become a place that people were making fun of [their peers] rather than just [making] simple lists of good things about students, then we would take it down,” he said.

Marchese believes that the anonymity of the compliments brought about by the account’s conception stresses how heartfelt the messages being sent in can really be. She was quick to state that stripping away one’s identity can add an entirely new level of sincerity. “I think that the most amazing output, whether it’s charity donations or compliments, is unconditional,” she said. “They’re not looking for any recognition, they’re doing it just because they care, they’re not making it just about themselves.”

Marchese went on to say that she hopes the addition of this forum to the school community could eventually lead to a more open, positive atmosphere in the hallways. “I think it’s a ‘people’ thing. We need to be treating each other better, treating each other well, end of story,” she said.