On Thursday, December 1st, the ill-frequented, rarely-updated developer blog for bored@butler announced its “30 day notice before b@ will go offline”. After almost 10 continuous years of servicing the greater Columbia community—with a few notable breaks earlier on—the pseudonymous online hangout now finds itself at death’s door. The site’s creator, Jonathan Pappas CC ’06, known affectionately on the website by his pseudonym “Jae Daemon” or just “Jae”, offered his reasoning on the developer blog, highlighting the site’s monetary and time commitment, his own distancing from the board, as well as potential safety liabilities present in bored@’s upkeep.
Bored@ is notoriously hard to explain, label, or pin values upon. The vast majority of users prefer to remain anonymous, hesitating to create and maintain pseudonymous accounts—”personalities”—with which to link their thoughts and opinions. Despite this, a healthy and unique internet culture flourished on the site. For every inside joke losing relevance, each meme fading into the Internet, and every power user who inevitably graduated and moved on with their life, bored@ remained very much alive. So much so that in a Blue and White investigation, the magazine wrote of bored@’s collective voice as “a more intelligent sort of 4chan-speak that is strongly influenced by social anxiety, privilege, gender, and pretension”. And this, in a way, is true. The front page of the website (as of the time of writing this article) includes depressing comments on the Columbia sex life, Columbia copypasta, lyrics, poetry, altered Biblical verse, personalities referencing each other, and, of course, quite a few shitposts. The site’s users take very literally the words emblazoned above bored@’s post box—”What’s on your mind?”
But for all the creativity and entertainment which colours the site’s culture, the anonymous nature of bored@ often attracted a nasty and brutish manner of thought. As in any anonymous forum, there were endless opportunities to herald socially-unacceptable, distasteful, and downright hostile comments. For bored@butler, these included every comment under the sun about Columbia, Barnard, General Studies, race, religion, specific campus figures, specific administrative figures, both campus and international media, and politics. In some ways, bored@butler represented the only true space of free thought at Columbia, where those who were most socially, politically, and culturally alienated could carve out a small area of the Columbia community for themselves. To paint the site with such romanticisms, however, betrays a long history of scandal and hostility.
After returning in October of 2009 from a financially-induced break, bored@ shut down in December due to a proliferation of “slanderous and racist comments.” The site, which had grown to encompass a variety of schools within the Ivy League, was suffering from an assailment of “racial slurs [and] the most offensive things you could possibly come up with” posted via proxy servers. Despite returning to—and remaining at—Columbia since 2010, the site suffered from a number of scandals involving other participating universities. Most infamously, the Dartmouth division of the site, named bored@baker for Dartmouth’s Baker Library, grew more rapidly than any of the other schools’ boards, developing a very unique and aggressive online culture. Bored@baker found itself involved in a series of distasteful scandals, as when users of the board launched threats and insults at Dartmouth activists protesting “homophobia, sexual assault and racism during the 2013 Dimensions of Dartmouth program,” or when a 2014 user posted a “guide on how to rape a specific member of the Class of 2017.” Nevertheless, the Dartmouth contingent of the board tenuously returned earlier this school year.
More recently, a seemingly explosive growth in the “alt-right” online culture has heralded bored@butler’s decline. In some ways, bored@butler grew unpalatable to a large window of the Columbia student body, often oppositely polarized to the standard rhetoric and discourse on campus. To many users, the board was the only place in a campus like Columbia, in a city like New York, to indulge in socially and academically dangerous viewpoints, while further hoping to discover they were not, in fact, alone with such ostracized ideas. To others, though, “alt-right” trolling served a means for entertainment and humour, and users would often bemoan the conflation of the board’s identity with intellectually vapid figures like Milo Yiannopoulos simply because “outsider” “normies” consistently forgot to not “feed the trolls.”
Regardless, the board is a very different place now than it was a year ago, and as it was a year before that. To decry Pappas’ decision as an act of defence against virulent ideas and speech would fly in the face of bored@’s 10 years of even allowing such ideas to be stated, argued, and amended—especially given the massive financial drain on Pappas personally. However, we don’t consider it melodramatic or romantic to remember the site as the truly last frontier of uninfluenced and entirely free intellectual space at Columbia, where personalities found friends and social groups, anonymous users presented socially unpalatable opinions, and campus journalists picked up breaking news. What will happen in the wake of bored@butler’s death, we cannot say. But if only for the decade of Columbia students who found some sentiments of community and belonging, we wish bored@ and Jae a fond farewell.
Chat via boredatbutler.com