The "Unseen" side of U.Va. as told through an up-and-coming app

October 19, 2015

Story by Allyson Cartwright

Anonymous social media is a trend that is popping up on college campuses, but what was intended as a platform for uninhibited socialization has now become an avenue for college students to post nude pictures. In the past two years, Yik Yak has taken U.Va. grounds by storm as an anonymous version of Twitter that is a source for running school jokes, complaints about professors, and boasts about sexual exploits (or a lack thereof). While Yik Yak is primarily for posting text, there are anonymous photo-sharing apps that are now on the undercurrents of student culture.

One of the most popular of these apps is called “Unseen”. It is geared specifically towards college students to post anonymous pictures. However, the way college students are using the app gives a whole new meaning to its description, “simply open Unseen to instantly explore your campus and connect with others.” Among the shots of people asleep in the library and arsenals of beer are pictures that girls have posted of themselves or posted by others that show them naked or semi-naked.

While “Unseen” has yet to fully infiltrate U.Va. grounds, it has become wildly popular on campuses like Harvard, UCLA and Texas A&M, just to name a few. But, the popularity of the app at U.Va. seems to increase with every posted picture. And from what has been posted, U.Va. falls in line with the trend of girls posting nude selfies.

The app’s design itself makes its user feel as though they are about to take part in a sordid world. Its dark and minimalistic interface makes it feel secretive and illicit. After agreeing to the terms and conditions it asks the user to swipe to “unlock” Unseen as if opening Pandora’s Box. It has an air of forbiddance.

Screenshot of Unseen taken by Allyson Cartwright

Looking through the U.Va. Unseen page, there is a nonthreatening picture of someone’s Bean boots, a “creeper shot” of a student at O’Hill, and then following suit with other colleges’ Unseen pages, multiple pictures of girl’s bodies. One picture showed a girl lying in her underwear and captioned the photo, “curves on girls>>>curves on tests”. Some other posts are pandering for these suggestive pictures. One post was captioned, “ass Tuesday?” another, “no boobs here…”, and a third one read “up vote if you’re just here to see tits”.

Francesca Tripodi, a U.Va sociology graduate student and co-author with U.Va professor Andrea Press of “Feminism in a Postfeminist World: Who’s Hot—and Why We Care—on the Collegiate ‘Anonymous Confession Board,’” notes that this sexual objectification of women is not unique to these anonymous platforms, but rather exists everywhere from Facebook to Snapchat stories. Tripodi says about the relationship between anonymity and these images, “It’s less about anonymity, but it is about what is an acceptable form of expression,” she continues, “The fact that misogyny is so widespread, the pictures don’t seem so subversive because it isn’t linked to a public persona and [female objectification] is so mainstream.”

Tripodi studied an anonymous college message board with Prof. Press, which showed women are contributing to this system of misogyny. She says, “Putting yourself out there for ranking is taking into account that ranking female bodies does not seem problematic to many users and that is indicative of a larger problem.”

Why these college women are posting their nude pictures is unknown except to the posters. It could be surrendering to misogyny or an act of empowerment. But, Tripodi says, if Unseen is where college women are seeking empowerment then that empowerment structure needs to be critiqued. She notes, “We need to pay attention to the broader structure that this is one of the only avenues to have empowerment through. Perhaps we don’t have other avenues?”

Suffice to say, anonymity seems to bring out the most prohibited behavior in people whether their intent is for self-objectification or self-empowerment. Almost certainly though, these young women would not post naked pictures of themselves on Unseen if their identity would be revealed. But, as the millennial generation is being slow to realize, what is posted online anonymously, doesn’t always stay anonymous.

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