The Problem With Anonymity: An Interview With Georgetown Confessions

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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

7 Questions with Take Back The Night

Seven questions with take back the night

Since 1975, women have been holding Take Back the Night events and combatting sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and sexual abuse. In 2001, Take Back the Night was officially established as a non-profit organization dedicated to those causes.

The Month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and as part of its campaign to end sexual and domestic violence, Georgetown University Take Bake The Night (GU TBTN) is holding Take Back The Night Week from April 8-12. To learn more about TBTN Week, sexual assault on college campuses, and most importantly, what Hoyas can do to combat gender-based violence, we sat down with Deanna Arthur (SFS ’14) and Kat Kelley (NHS ’14), Co-Chairs of GU TBTN, and Mary Toscano (COL ’14), Domestic Violence Liaison for GU TBTN.

What is GU TBTN and what is its focus?

“GU TBTN is an advocacy organization focused on fighting gender-based violence,” said Kelley. “Our main goal is to provide awareness and education about these types of violence. We really want to get people talking and thinking about these issues. We put on the Vagina Monologues every year, we do movie screenings and we especially put our focus on the month of April which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”

Currently, GU TBTN is leading numerous initiatives to raise awareness about sexual and domestic violence. According to Toscano, “We’ve done a lot of lobbying with other organizations for the reauthorization for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). We had a petition and, for us, it was really important to educate other students about VAWA. Another thing that we’re working on is an event specifically devoted to Domestic Violence that will take place during TBTN Week. We’re going to photograph people in Red Square holding signs and the whole purpose of the event is to incorporate people from different perspectives.” The event will feature members from GU Pride, international groups and other student organizations.

Though it is something that is commonly talked about, many people don’t know what sexual assault really is. What is the real definition sexual assault?

“Legally sexual assault is any unwanted sexual touching,” said Kelley, “It’s especially defined by the experience of the survivor. There’s not one situation or one act that defines it. If an unwanted sexual experience causes this type of trauma in the survivor, it’s something that needs to be dealt with legitimacy.”

Arthur mentioned that sexual assault is a prevalent issue on college campuses, including here at Georgetown. “The statistic says that 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted, and for Georgetown, the statistic is similar,” said Arthur. “For adult males, it’s 1 in 33. There aren’t as many statistics for college age males—and sexual assaults in males are significantly underreported. That’s the other thing—the 1 in 4 statistic is just the statistic that has been reported. So it’s definitely an issue– even here. Many people think that here at Georgetown, we don’t have to worry about these things, ‘it’s something distant, it’s something foreign.’ But it happens and it happens in a lot of different forms… we’re not immune from it.”

When is GU TBTN Week, and what events will it include?

TBTN Week is going to be held from April 8-13 and our thesis for this year’s TBTN Week is ‘It’s Not a Woman’s Issue, It’s a Hoya’s Issue,’ said Arthur. Our goal is to reach out to different student groups and get them actively involved in this year’s events and raise awareness on campus about gender-based violence.

Here is the line-up for the week’s events:

Monday, April 8 Kickoff in Red Square with the Corp Service Outreach Committee
Monday, April 8 Evening  Two bloggers from Feministing will address students about Rape Culture and Sexual Assault

Tuesday, April 9 Screening of The Invisible War and focus on rape in the military
“We really want to show that sexual assault has an effect on everybody, even places like the military, where you wouldn’t normally associate with sexual assault,” said Kelley.

Wednesday, April 10 The Week’s flagship event, ‘It Happens Here’

Thursday, April 11 Domestic Violence Awareness with numerous student organizations

Friday, April 12 Partnering with Health Education Services Hoya Health Hut which will involve pledging to not partake in sexual violence

What is ‘It Happens Here’ and how can Hoyas become involved with the event?

It Happens Here is an program that will feature the experiences of members of the Georgetown Community. According to Arthur, “We’ve reached out to social media to collect anonymous stories and insight from survivors, allies and bystanders on campus. In addition, we’ve developed a blog piece that we’ve released on the Georgetown Women’s Center Blog and Feminists at Large, and we’re also going post that on the Corp Service and Outreach Committee.”

“Most importantly, said Arthur, “we also have a Google Form to collect anonymous submissions for the event. Everything is going to go through our contacts in the Women’s Center and we want to reassure everyone that the whole program is going to be put together delicately. On the submission forms, we have a lot of links to the resources on campus. We really want people here to be aware of campus resources. We want to take these stories– whether it’s a survivor of an assault here at Georgetown or what it’s like to hear rape jokes or to be an ally or a friend—what they experienced, what they saw, what they wish they could have done better– and raise awareness on campus.

To access the Google Form and submit a personal experience, click here. Remember, all stories will be anonymous and handled with the utmost discretion.

How can we combat sexual assault on campus?

According to Toscano, some of the biggest problems with sexual assault today stem from societal stigmas and preconceived ideas. “We need to shift the focus on perpetrators, not victims,” said Toscano, “and we need to refocus the way we ask our questions and react to these events.”

Kelley said that we continue to ask the wrong questions when it comes to gender based violence. “We ask things like ‘What were you wearing?’, ‘What were you doing that night?’, ‘Why were you with that person?’ and ‘Why were you drinking that much?'”

“We also have all these societal myths,” said Kelley. “These include: ‘She was asking for it…’ or
‘He didn’t mean to…’ or ‘This type of thing only happens to women and only men perpetrate it.'” According to the girls, the most important thing when dealing with a sexual assault survivor is to believe them and reject preconceived myths about sexual assault.

Above all else, the girls wanted to spread the word about the wealth of resources on campus for both women and men. These resources can provide Housing and Academic Accommodations for survivors of sexual violence.

Resources include:

-Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Counselors, Bridget Sherry, who works with ESCAPE and Health Education Services and Carol Day, who is Director of Health Education Services

-The Women’s Center (Located on the third floor of the Leavey Center)

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“What’s key is that survivors have a safe space,” said Kelley. “If they want to tell a friend, or a chaplain, or a professor, or someone they are close to. It’s all about doing what feels safe and comfortable for them.”

For more information on GU TBTN, TBTN Week or Resources on the Georgetown Campus, like Georgetown Take Back The Night on Facebook or email them at [email protected]