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The Guy Behind Overheard at Yale

tylerBlackmon

photo by: Diane Kim

About Overheard at Yale:

  • Tyler Blackmon, JE ‘16, founded the Facebook page “Overheard at Yale” in 2013. Now, in 2015, the page has amassed a membership of over 5,500 users.
  • Users of the group, mainly Yale undergraduates, post entertaining or informative conversations, photos, or memes on a public wall that can be seen by anyone.
  • Posts that attract popularity regularly receive over 500 likes within a day; some, over thousands of likes.

 

DK: Thanks for having this interview with us. I remember joining the group when I was a freshman, and it’s been really cool to see how successful it has become. How did Overheard at Yale get started?

TB: I had a friend at Vanderbilt and saw Overheard at Vanderbilt, which I thought was ridiculous. I knew that Yale had some hilarious people, but nothing like this really existed on campus. At that time, there were only Yale memes, as a group or a page, and maybe RumpChat.

So, that inspired me to start it off. I just added a bunch of people to the group and asked them to post a few things on it. A lot of them did. I think people in the beginning were thinking, “Why does this exist?” but then it really took off within a month or two. 

That was one of my proudest moments, when people were doing this without even me asking.

 

DK: People are posting constantly every single day. I can’t even keep up sometimes! Does it take you a long time to go through the posts? How does your role as a moderator work?

TB: It’s gotten more complicated because this thing has exploded. I mean, when it started, people would post every few days. Now I get more than 10 notifications a day. Before, I didn’t think of myself as a moderator because there just wasn’t any need.  But when it got big enough, people started to realize that Overheard could be used as advertising space, so I had to censor out spam. I really tried to knock those out, and I still do.

At least once a week, people will send me hateful messages demanding to know why I deleted their post.

To be honest, I’ve gotten to be pretty heartless. People can become ridiculous very easily and often flare up over tiny things; then I have to deal with this thing that’s taking time away from my essay. It’s annoying.

 

DK: What do you do about the hateful messages?

TB: So, I have gotten to the point that I don’t even reply anymore. They’re always mad because sometimes their post was borderline: for instance, some people post news stories about Yale. People will say “Well, you didn’t delete this, why did you delete mine?!” Truthfully I’m not consistent for many reasons: one, because I have no time, and two, because it’s gray line. But it’s never really bothered me when people get angry with me. Haters gonna hate.

 

DK: Have you ever found yourself in a tricky situation?  

TB: I remember when the G-Heav stuff was happening lots of people supporting the protest kept posting on Overheard to try to drum up support for the strike.

I had this weird dilemma where I was a political activist and very much cared about the issue personally, but I also knew this wasn’t the space for that.

So I had to delete their posts about it. I have to separate my politics from the goals of being an objective administrator. It’s something that I’ve learned how to deal with. People are still going to think I have political bias, and I’m not going to waste energy trying to pacify them, but the truth is I try to stay as neutral as possible. 

 

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The cover photo of the Facebook group.

DK: How do you feel about the Overheard taking on more serious posts?

TB: These things tend to morph into platforms for social discussion. I’m of two minds on this. I think those conversations are important, but it shouldn’t get to the point where it’s over the top and impedes on people’s experience on Overheard. So it’s rare that I delete a post because it gets too political but, when it happens, it’s most likely because people were getting too personal.

 

DK: Have you thought about monetizing the group? 

TB: Overheard has become a common, shared experience for Yale students. I’m not going to monetize it.  It would feel like a betrayal to cash out. If people want it, I want to provide it for them. I’m not in this for the money; I just did it because I was bored one day.

Someone tried to buy it off me once for $500 one time so they could use it for their own advertising purposes. I got a kick out of that.

 

DK: A lot of Yale-centered Facebook groups, like Yale PostSecret, are also becoming very popular. What makes Overheard different?

TB: The format is very different. With Overheard, anyone can post anything at any time whereas with PostSecret the administrators have to collect the information and then let out a flood of posts. They’re not as timely, often deeply personal, and anonymous. With Overheard, there’s a degree of separation because you’re not posting something about yourself, so you’re more willing to post with your real identity.

 

DK: What are your thoughts on Overheard becoming a sort of news service? People are racing to be the first to post important news stories, especially when school is cancelled. 

TB: I think the news part of it also make it unique, although it’s not something I originally thought of. When a snow day happens, people post something about it quickly, and they can do that because posts come up automatically. It’s replaced RumpChat as a place where you hear about things on campus. I’ve even noticed that YDN’s Cross Campus gets a lot of their bullet points from Overheard at Yale. I’ll regularly see things on Overheard and see that exact thing on Cross Campus. Again, it’s amusing.

 

DK: What kinds of posts get the most likes? Do you have a favorite?

TB: Usually the pictures. I think the first big “like-breaker” was the guy who posed as the lipstick statue, which got over 1000 likes. But I think the record holder is the picture of the “No Room for Hate” response to the Swastika vandals on Old Campus. The ones that don’t do so well are the ones that people just don’t get. Inside jokes and the like. Brutally, the worst ones are those that just aren’t funny.

One of my favorite ones was one of the very original ones. It sounds stupid, but was so funny, but it was about waiting in line at Durfee’s. The students were talking about something philosophical and the Durfee’s lady said “How about you shut up and pay for your sandwich?”

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Overheard at Durfee's

DK: Do people ever talk about Overheard in front of you, not knowing who you are? I actually never thought to see who created the group until I decided to write this story. Your name is literally printed on the side.

TB: I usually don’t tell people, but sometimes I’ll be in a group and one of my friends will point out that I started the group to other people, and they get this incredulous look on their face. Freshmen especially, since they don’t remember it not existing.

It’s a cool experience especially when I’m at a party and I overhear people talk about something they saw on Overheard, and everyone else is like “Oh yeah! I saw that too!” The group really is a shared experience.

This semester I was in a seminar and the class started analyzing Overheard from some political perspective, talking about the social implications of the group. I just sat back and smirked the whole time.

 

 DK: Any plans for Overheard when you graduate?

TB: Not a clue. I really haven’t thought about what I’ll do with it after I graduate. I think the guy who started Yale Ideas had a mini-application process when he handed it over. Maybe I’ll do that. Heck, it may not even last that long.

 

DK: Okay, last question: how do you think this experience has impacted you?

TB: It's been an overall positive experience. It’s cool to see how we can connect all of campus really quickly with a simple Facebook group. I’ve always been interested in communications, but it definitely has shown me that social media is more deliberate than I ever realized. I expected Overheard to flare up in six months and then die down. I think because I actively rooted out the weeds throughout and let the group evolve naturally (like allowing pictures come in), the group has been able to sustain itself for the long run.

For years, my friends always shamed me for eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, but I just can’t help it! You miss out on 85% of the world’s conversations if you only listen to the people who are talking to you.

So I guess this group is just formalizing and scaling up something that I always did naturally. Now everyone can eavesdrop and not feel so guilty about it.

 

Read the Top Overheard at Yale Posts in 2014 here!

Diane Kim
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