Writing on the virtual bathroom wall

Students are turning to the Facebook group “Overheard at Temple” to share with the Temple network what’s been eavesdropped on Main Campus.

Students are turning to the Facebook group “Overheard at Temple” to share with the Temple network what’s been eavesdropped on Main Campus.


If you’ve ever been on Main Campus and heard an offbeat comment – anything from someone being “afraid to drink because she might be pregnant” to someone describing “how hard it is to dance in a dragon costume” – you are not alone.

“Overheard at Temple,” the Facebook group that has a membership rate now close to 3,000, allows students to post things they overhear on campus. And student are posting what they overhear daily – whether funny, raunchy or simply bizarre.

“Overhear something funny in the elevator at Anderson, on Beury Beach, in Paley’s stacks or J&H? Post it!” reads the “Overheard at Temple” group’s description.

“A woman who can wake up and brush her teeth with beer, now that’s wifin’ material,” one student posted as something he overheard.

“The quotes offer relief from the mundane and the many stresses of being a student by putting it into a comedic context, allowing students to connect and embrace ‘college’ ideals,” said freshman geography and urban studies major Trevor Markovitz, who has posted on “Overheard at Temple.”

Freshman biology major Jacob Peters created the group Nov. 5. He said he initially sent out only seven invitations, but without advertising, it grew to 1,000 members within a few days.

This group, which some have compared to textsfromlastnight.com or fmylife.com, is not unique to Temple. Across the country, colleges and universities, including Drexel University and University of Pittsburgh, have similar groups.

“It’s mainly for laughs,” Peters said. “Sometimes someone will post on the wall, and random people will comment. Who knows? Maybe a friendship [could] start.”

Dr. Kareem Johnson, an assistant psychology professor at Temple, warns that groups like these can create a skewed perception of college ideals, drinking and relationships, specifically.

“My concern about this is that it makes these behaviors seem more common than they are. The sense of what is normal is distorted,” he said. “I would caution young folks that just because you see it, doesn’t mean it’s normal.”

Hateful comments and an invasion of privacy may also be causes for concern.

Peters said he posted guidelines, requesting no one post real names, stories or rumors. He said he checks for posts that may be offensive or irrelevant, but so far, he has only removed one.

“A girl’s Facebook account had been hacked, and spam advertisement had been posted on the [group’s wall],” Peters said. “I simply deleted it.”

Travicio Braue-Fischbach, a freshman university studies major, has posted three times. His one complaint with the group is that hateful comments are sometimes made on posts. In a few cases, students seem to have been targeted or ganged up on.

“I would have hoped the page would remain good-natured,” Braue-Fischbach said. “But I suppose it was an Internet inevitability.”

Most students, though, don’t cite public humiliation as a major issue for the site.

“It seems a bit more intrusive because strangers’ conversations are put out publicly, but it’s all anonymous, so no harm [is] done,” sophomore secondary education and math major Moira Hallinan said.

But Johnson warns the posts may not be as anonymous as they seem, and clues may give away identities.

“It’s under the guidelines of anonymity, but Temple isn’t that big of a community. We think it is, but it isn’t,” Johnson said.

Dan Whitman, creator of “Overheard at Pitt,” said while he does occasionally monitor the posts, he has not had too much of a problem with irrelevant posts, which have become problematic for the “Overheard at Temple” group, Hallinan said.

Whitman, a sophomore at Pitt, founded the group about a year ago but said it did not really become popular until about three weeks ago.

Christian Compton, a sophomore at Radford University, founded “Overheard at RU!” about two weeks ago. He said he’s surprised how quickly the group’s membership has grown; already, nearly 2,000 people have joined.

Whitman and Compton both said they got their ideas from other colleges and universities, but it’s unclear where the first “Overheard” group originated. There are also several Web sites, independent of Facebook, based on a similar idea, such as overheardinnewyork.com, overheardinminneapolis.com and overheardatcampus.com.

Johnson said he isn’t surprised at the popularity of these groups.

“It’s very natural to be interested in others. There’s something very captivating about seeing other people’s emotional lives on display,” he said. “The vast majority of human speech is dedicated to gossip. About two-thirds of everything people say is about people not present.”

Johnson recognizes that while such groups provide captivating, entertainment value they can also foster hostility, passive aggressiveness and embarrassment.

“It’s amazing how powerful these social networks can be and how words on a screen can have such a tremendous impact,” he said.

But for most college-aged Facebook users, it seems to be business as usual.

“I think the group is hilarious,” Karl Lewis, a junior mechanical engineering major, said. “It’s definitely a good way to kill some time in between classes or procrastinate on some homework.”

Christine Fisher can be reached at fisher.christine@temple.edu.

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