SFU’s Chitter revolution

What is Chitter?

The Convocation Mall raccoons should watch out, because there’s a new woodland creature winning the hearts of SFU students: the bright blue squirrel of Chitter.

A few months ago, someone told me about the new app. At first, I didn’t quite get it. It was described to me as a lawless, never-ending thread that had content ranging from bizarre confessions, to UBC jokes, to anonymous nudes. And you will find all of those things on Chitter. But this app shouldn’t be written off as another campus fad.

I sat down with 25 regular Chitter users some who got involved when it launched this past September, and some who just recently began posting to talk about what this app has to offer SFU students. And one thing became increasingly clear: Chitter has allowed for a whole new kind of community to emerge that has otherwise been absent at SFU.

 

Any SFU student can Chitter

Chitter is a message board. You can post anonymously, but when you comment on posts, your Facebook name and profile picture appears.

There are separate pages for certain topics, such as anime or photos of your pets, but the main page changes in topic constantly. It’s not uncommon for long threads to appear on the posts, as frequent users chat back and forth.

You also have the option to give ‘upvotes’ and ‘downvotes’ to posts you like or not. If a post reaches negative five, it is automatically removed from Chitter. You can also ‘like’ other Chitter users, and chat with other users once they’ve liked you back.

 

A community of Chittering

Who is Chitter? As it turns out, this isn’t an easy question to answer. The app has attracted so many different kinds of students — science, arts, business, first-year, graduate, male, female — there is no real portrait of the average Chitter user. This made made the Chitter community one of the most diverse groups on campus.

When I asked the group what they wished I would convey about the community in this article, overwhelmingly, they wanted me to encourage other students to post and let the existing users get to know each SFU student.

They all wanted to stress the inclusivity of the app, expressing how it is a place where everyone can feel welcomed and no one is judged.

While there is no real ‘face’ of Chitter, there are users who post so frequently they have become recognizable around campus: these are the ‘Chitter famous.’

“There is no hierarchy [within the Chitter community], but people will recognize you [around campus],” said one girl. Some of the users enjoy being recognized, while others said it makes them feel uncomfortable. Like it or not, some of the more frequent commenters are becoming well-known campus celebrities.

Just last month, while I was still becoming acquainted with the Chitter app and community that belongs to it, one of my friends pulled me aside at The Highland Pub to point out a guy who he recognized from Chitter. I didn’t really know what to make of that man’s Chitter fame, but it does mean that this is more than a collection of random thoughts and raunchy jokes — it’s a place where SFU students gather and socialize — contrasting SFU’s reputation for being cold and lonely, particularly on the Burnaby campus.

 

When I asked the group what they wished I would convey about the community in this article, overwhelmingly, they wanted me to convey that Chitter is an inclusive place where everyone is welcome.

Anonymous positivity

Overwhelmingly, the Chitter users I spoke with highlighted that the app was a place where you can go to find people with whom you click. While I was conducting this group interview, two of the girls in the room realized they knew each other from some posts on the message board, and instantly went in for a hug. They were thrilled to be meeting in person and spoke as if they had known each other for months. The online community developing on Chitter is one that is without rival at SFU.

They told me the app provides a safe place, where bullying and derogatory comments were down-voted and removed quickly.

If you browse Chitter, you will always find supportive comments, be it for academic or other issues that often plague students. There is, for instance, a group of people who started a “body positivity” movement on the app, where users post photos of parts of their body they’re insecure about, while others validate the poster and reassure them of their beauty.

When this app first launched at the University of Alberta, it had no real direction, and there was a lot of opportunity for the project to fail. But as it has spread to different campuses across Canada, it has taken on different roles.

 

Changing life at SFU

Everyone I spoke to about their Chitter experiences was sure that this app had changed their SFU experience for the better.

There is now a large group of regular Chitter users — about 200 of them meet up regularly. The in-person meetups started last semester and have now become a daily occurrence.

Past gatherings range from sushi dinners, to house parties, to afternoons in the rotunda playing card games. Every day there are multiple Chitter events happening on and around every SFU campus. In their minds, this app changed the way they looked at SFU. Suddenly, making the trip up the mountain was about more than going to lecture and going home — it was going to a place where you meet up with friends, get help with classes, and make memories.

Almost everyone I chatted with said that they met some of their closest friends through Chitter. Some even met their significant others.

 

A breed of its own

Chitter does have some similarities with other campus development projects. It’s anonymous posting feature is a lot like the SFU Confessions page on Facebook, for instance. But there are several features that distinguish it.

As one girl put it, there is “no filter” on what gets posted. There is no admin to regulate content.

Others focused on how addictive Chitter is. Everyone in the group interview claimed they checked the app multiple times a day. “I’ve checked twice since I’ve been here,” said one guy.

Chitter also sorts students in a unique way. They aren’t separated by interests or area of study; they are part of a large group. While clubs are great for meeting students with the same interests, they are without a doubt more divisive as they sort students into small groups rather than creating one large one.

 

Chitter on, SFU

At the end of the day, Chitter is still new at SFU. It’s instant success bodes well for its future on campus, but it’s still too early to predict whether the app will stick or fizzle out. But, after speaking with a handful of Chitter’s most frequent posters, and having downloaded and spent time on the app myself, I’m certain that the app will become a lasting aspect of SFU’s community. As it destigmatizes online relationships and pulls in a wide range of students, the app will cement itself in our minds as a tool for finding friends on campus.

Ultimately, though, it will be up to SFU student to sustain this project.

 

Chitter lingo

OP = Original poster

CAD = Chitter After Dark (this is exactly what you think it is)

Chit head = Someone who posts on Chitter frequently

Dev = A reference to one of the app developers