The Problem With Anonymity: An Interview With Georgetown Confessions

mmhm

In the few weeks between the inception of the Georgetown Confessions Facebook page as an outlet for whimsical admittances and its progression to a forum for heated debate about racial and socioeconomic issues or personal attacks, the person behind Confessions was overwhelmed with the volume and maliciousness of anonymous posts.

“I thought the Confessions would be primarily humorous and fun and never thought that intense discussions about race, socioeconomic class and other similar topics would emerge on the page,” Confessions wrote in an online chat.

Many of the discussions on Georgetown Confessions begin with a contentious confession followed by a debate in the comment section or another post that references and responds to the original poster.

“I feel like they have the potential to be meaningful, but they usually just become really petty and hateful,” Confessions wrote.

These comments are primarily submitted through an anonymous Google Form, but are occasionally sent through Facebook message, allowing the person who runs the page to know who submitted it, which Confessions acknowledged changes the dynamic of the anonymous page.

“I feel that non-anonymity gives the creator of the page a certain power over the people who send in confessions, compliments, insults, whatever – which I certainly don’t want,” Confessions wrote.

This difference is the reason Confessions encourages people to submit confessions anonymously. “I feel like it completely defeats the purpose of the page’s anonymity aspect,” Confessions wrote.

Georgetown Compliments, a more positive forum for anonymous Facebook posts, accepts submissions only through Facebook message, giving Compliments access to the identity of posters.

“Ultimately, I think [anonymity] encourages certain people to say things they feel they won’t be held accountable for, which I think is how we’re ending up with some really hateful messages being posted,” Compliments wrote about Confessions.

Georgetown Insults, which also exclusively accepts submissions through Facebook messages, shared the same sentiment.

“Complete anonymity, which Confessions claims to offer, makes people feel that whatever they say, no matter how offensive it is, will never be traced back to them. … I assume people find it sort of liberating when they release their pent up thoughts,” Insults wrote in a Facebook message.

Though the name Georgetown Insults implies the page would be a forum for slander, in practical terms, the page has been used quite differently.

“It’s been relatively easy for me because most of the posts are jests among friends or calling out establishments at Georgetown. … People realize that I am a person that they might know and/or be friends with, so they restrict themselves in what they send me,” Insults wrote.

The owner of Confessions has adapted to filtering posts for hateful or offensive content.

“In the beginning, I don’t think I was very good at filtering the confessions, but I gradually improved with experience,” Confessions wrote. “While I believe that the controversial Confessions do promote awareness about diversity-related issues within the Georgetown community, I feel that the negative and hateful comments may paint Georgetown in a negative light to the outside world.”

Recently, a debate arose on Confessions about slut-shaming and sexual harassment, to which Take Back the Night Co-Chair Kat Kelley (NHS ’14) responded. A subsequent post singled out Kelley in a malicious personal attack, displayed here. This instance of cyber-bullying caused outrage among Confessions readers, to which Confessions responded by issuing a formal apology on Facebook and contacting Kelley directly.

“Georgetown students do have the right to ask that posts be taken down,” Confessions acknowledged. The owner of Confessions took the post down due to the general public outrage and proceeded to delete many other confessions at student request. Confessions attributed this particular instance of publication of a hateful confession to inexperience of a new member of the Confessions team.

Given the tremendous increase in popularity and in the number of confessions submitted daily, I tried to find another person to help me run the page. I let the other person run the page for a few days, and because he/she was unfamiliar with how the page worked and the filtering aspect of the job, a lot of harmful Confessions were posted unintentionally. I didn’t realize what had happened until a few days later, and I thereby deleted the harmful posts and proceeded to issue an apology,” Confessions wrote.

Kelley was skeptical of this rationalization.

“I find it hard to believe that it was just a couple days of one person not filtering because it seems like there should have been a filter on a while ago,” Kelley said.

According to Confessions, similar pages at other colleges do not usually address such divisive issues.

“The page is similar to many other schools’ Confessions pages because many light-hearted confessions are posted each day, but it is different because of the intense discussions about race, socioeconomic status and other similar topics that take place on the page,” Confessions wrote.

It is uncertain whether other schools monitor confessions more closely or if the Georgetown student body is more prone to confession about socioeconomic, racial and sexual issues.

Northwestern Confessions employs a stricter monitoring method than Georgetown Confessions.

“We don’t post any posts with names on them or posts that directly attack a specific person or group of people. … Although this is a space where [Northwestern] students are free to confess, we don’t intend it to also be a vehicle for hate and hostility in the student body. Therefore, we believe a little monitoring is healthy for the page and the community that participates in it,” Northwestern Confessions wrote in a Facebook message.

Confessions noted, however, that the Facebook page shows something distinctive about the Hilltop.

“While the page might paint the Georgetown community in a negative light, especially because of the petty and hateful comments that have arisen in the past, I feel that the page also shows the diversity of opinions within the Georgetown community, in addition to the unity of the student body, especially in response to things like the controversial cyber-bullying posts,” said Confessions.

Confessions suggested that the increased volume of posters and expanded readership might minimize the impact of individual confessions.

“Given the large increase in the page’s popularity over the last several weeks, I’ve become somewhat desensitized to the impact that these Confessions might affect Georgetown students personally,” Confessions wrote.

Georgetown Confessions has prompted many students to reflect on the role of anonymity and public debate on campus, but only time will tell what else this page will show about the Georgetown community.

Photo: Lindsay Lee/The Hoya

What’s the Difference?

WHATS THE DIFFERENCE

If you’ve been on Facebook at all during this school year, you’ve seen various anonymous Facebook pages cropping up and posting all over your newsfeed, tagging your friends, and getting into feuds. These pages were built for people professing love, teasing friends, confessing to naughty deeds, or used by Hoyas just trying to broadcast a joke about Leo’s or Lau. Some of you may be asking “what’s the difference?” Thankfully for you, The Fourth Edition is here to put a magnifying glass up to the nuances.

Georgetown Compliments – Georgetown Compliments was the first of these pages to appear on the Facebook scene and was used as a method of brightening the days of the people in our lives while retaining anonymity. People submit their entries by Facebook message and leave ultimate power to the person running this Facebook account.

Georgetown Insults – Georgetown Insults arose shortly after its counterpart mentioned above. Its main purpose is similar to Georgetown Compliments but with a different tone: instead of using an anonymous source to exalt your friends best characteristics, people use it to harmlessly poke fun at their friends or make fun of Georgetown institutions. Occasionally there is a legitimate ‘insult’ on the page, but those are scarce. Just like Georgetown Compliments, people submit their entries by Facebook message and leave ultimate power to the person running this Facebook account.

Georgetown Love Declarations – When people began using Georgetown Compliments to profess their love (or lust) for various residents of The Hilltop, someone decided that there needed to be a separate page for such things. The main purpose of Georgetown Love Declarations is to use it as an anonymous way to let that special someone know you’re interested (whether you actually know their name or not). In my opinion, it wouldn’t do much good since it’s…well…anonymous. My advice? Just go up and say hi.

Georgetown Confessions – Georgetown Confessions has picked up a lot of steam recently and is one of the more popular pages right now, despite the fact that it was created in late December. Unlike some of the other pages, Georgetown Confessions allows you to submit entries in complete anonymity through a Google form. People confess their sauciest, funniest, and most taboo secrets and they’re published with assigned numbers.

Here’s a confession…I wrote this one. JUDGE ME.

Georgetown Secrets – Same as Georgetown Confessions minus the Google form, minus the large following, created two months later.

Georgetown Crushes – Georgetown Crushes has you submit the names of five people you have crushes on and if there are any matches then they’ll set you up. Again…my advice? JUST TALK TO THE PERSON.

Hoya Hook Ups – We’ve reached a point where the posts on Love Declarations, Confessions, Crushes, and even Compliments, were getting a little too raunchy and it became clear that Georgetown students had some…ahem…needs to be addressed. Hoya Hookups is a sort of makeshift dating site but for those who want to “get hooked up with other Georgetown students.”

And to quote their Facebook “about” page (I have no further comments):

Are you DTF? Don’t want to resort to Brown House to find some company for the night?

Whether you’re looking for a quickie, a cuddle buddy, or to finally lose your virginity, Georgetown Hook Ups will hook you up. All you have to do is follow the instructions below, wait for us to hook you up, and then meet up with your soulmate for the night, or the next 30 minutes – we’re not judging.

And don’t worry, it’s completely anonymous if you want to be.

**Inspired by the NYU Hook Ups page

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO POST A HOOK UP REQUEST, MESSAGE this page with answers to the following questions:
1. your gender
2. your school
3. your year
4. your sexual orientation
5. your race/ethnicity
6. dorm on campus or live off campus
7. description of yourself
8. who you are looking for
9. anything else someone should know

some suggested questions include: how many times per week would you have sex
turn ons, turn offs

OR IF YOU SEE SOMEONE THAT SUITS YOUR HOOK UP INTERESTS, post a reply to that anonymous post and if they find you interesting, they will personally message you outside of this Facebook page

If you prefer to find a cuddle buddy in a simpler way, just message us a photo of yourself and we will post it.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU SUBMIT YOUR HOOK UP REQUEST
One of the administrators will anonymously post your message to this page’s wall and you’ll be able to choose from anyone that replies to your anonymous post. You can get in contact with them by privately messaging them on Facebook – outside of this Facebook page.

Georgetown Remorses – This was just created. No, I don’t know what it is. Yes, I do think this person was just bored over Easter break.

Georgetown Quotes – This was also just created this morning. It doesn’t mimic any of the above pages, but you may have heard of a little thing called @OHGeorgetown that was established several years ago, and which also has 2,557 followers. See any similarities? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

Georgetown Gossip – This one was officially added five minutes ago. Those obsessed with Blake Lively and Leighton Meester will get a kick out of it. The rest of us are jaded and unamused.

I’m just getting prepared for ‘Georgetown GPA’, where people can anonymously post their grades or Georgetown Diet, where people can tell the entire student body what they had for lunch that day without the risk of exposing their identity. What’s next?