Not So Hot Anymore

17 April 2016

“Bachelor of Commerce, Majoring in fine ass.”

“I’d smell her fart.”

If these sentences strike you as inappropriate things to say about another person online, you’re not alone.

Last year, I wrote an article about the now infamous, yet always dubious, Facebook page ‘Hotties of Melbourne University’ (HOMU). I wanted to ask the admins where the idea had come from, why the page, which at one stage was receiving an average of 50 submissions a day, had become so successful, and whether or not that success could be sustained.

After a period of exponential growth in 2014 (during SWOTvac week, of course), activity had dropped off significantly, and I was curious to find out if the page owners saw a rekindling, a reheating if you will, of ‘Hotties of Melbourne University’s’ former hotness.

Following a recent backlash in which thousands of people signed a petition for the page to be deleted, the question of whether HOMU could regain momentum has been answered with a resounding no. Removed from Facebook last Thursday night, Hotties hasn’t just gone cold, it’s been completely frozen out.

University of Melbourne law student Laura Blandthorn launched the petition to take down the page on Monday last week. In it, Blandthorn criticised HOMU for “perpetuat(ing) rape culture”, “normalising predatory behaviour against women” and for posting images of women without their consent.

In four days, the petition had gathered more than 23,000 signatures and was featured across a number of news sites. By Thursday, either terminated by Facebook or voluntarily taken down by the admins themselves, the page was gone.

It’s not surprising that HOMU met this fate, but it is surprising that controversy regarding the page has taken this long to boil over. ‘Hotties of Melbourne University’ has drawn comparisons to the crude precursor to Facebook, ‘Facemash’, which rated female Harvard students on their attractiveness,  as seen in the 2010 film The Social Network. Although HOMU didn’t ask followers to score the people it featured, comment sections would quickly devolve into this practice anyway.

While many interactions would be supportive comments from friends of the ‘Hottie’ in question, social media being what it is, comment threads, overwhelmingly on female students, would often be peppered with disrespectful and misogynistic opinions. Add to this that permission to post images wasn’t sought before they went up, but rather anyone who objected to being on the page would have to request their removal, and it’s clear to see how ‘Hotties of Melbourne University’ was problematic.

Like a star that supernovas, expanding hugely in size before it explodes, the page’s popularity jumped dramatically in its last few days. Fuelled by media attention from the petition, but maybe also by students who’d been happily featured as a ‘hottie’ coming back for a final screencap of their 15 minutes of attractiveness-validating fame, visits to HOMU spiked to levels not seen since their heady, procrastination-charged peak in 2014. Now however, ‘Hotties of Melbourne University’ joins the vast majority of other defunct ‘Hotties off…’ pages in whatever corner of the internet Facebook stores dead pages. Unlike the Monash equivalent, which before its demise had collapsed under the weight of its own seediness, becoming something possibly even shittier: a multi-society club night promoting page, HOMU stayed true to itself.

The problem was its premise was never really appropriate, and too easily and too often became a space for sexism and objectification. The page was probably started in good humour. Last year, the admins told me that they love to laugh at themselves and felt that this was one of the reasons the page had become so successful. From time to time, they would deprecatingly post their own pictures on the page.

“We thought it would be a good laugh to start something like this… We certainly didn’t expect it to get as big as it did so quickly”, said the admins when I interviewed them in 2015. The page was funny, but it was a fun with too many creepy strings attached, and so ‘Hotties of Melbourne University’ was always a page that had to go sometime.

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