Anonymous Facebook groups: An attributed commentary

| Staff Columnist

Like many a Wash. U. undergraduate, I have recently become addicted to the set of anonymous Facebook pages like “Wash U Confessions” and “Wash U Admirers” that purportedly detail the unspoken thoughts of students around campus. They have the qualities of being fresh and direct, detailing true opinions without the fear of social judgment and condemnation directed at the writer. They are also eminently relatable, expressing the thoughts of those who are in a similar position to myself. While posts can sometimes be obnoxious, with the poster “trolling” for a reaction and using the anonymity to hide from a public backlash, they are far more often harmlessly comedic, complimentary, therapeutic or expressing a widely-held but seldom-discussed opinion. In fact, Facebook’s own mechanisms of “liking” and commenting publicly allow responses to these posts without revealing the identity of the poster. This is, in effect, the perfect way for such dialogue to occur as statements can be made and the community can criticize them without publicly shaming the author. Furthermore, the administrator of the page chooses which anonymous submissions to post and filters those he or she considers too vulgar. And even further, if students become so disenchanted with the entire idea of the anonymous “confessions,” “admirers,” “compliments” or “overheard at” pages, they can personally dissociate themselves from them.

I particularly enjoy these pages because they give a candid, personal understanding of life at Wash. U. from other students’ perspectives and provide relatable yet completely different experiences all rooted in the common university that we all attend. Posting such comments provides both an outlet for the poster, a therapeutic way to express true feelings, while simultaneously allowing for others to express sympathy, condolences, similar experiences or criticisms, all with anonymity should the poster desire. While there is certainly a problem with administrator bias in allowing some comments and posts on the page, it is also important to remember that none of the communities is directly affiliated with the University and that all comments, posts and messages happen at the discretion of the administrator. Even beyond that, within the University, each student can be seen as a public figure of some sort, interacting with a very small and self-isolated population. Mentions in a relatively public environment such as Facebook are therefore beyond the students’ personal control.

Some people also argue that these groups promote a negative image of the University, projecting a misogynistic, elitist, antisocial viewpoint that is not necessarily reflective of the greater student body. While some posts do portray these viewpoints, they generally only reflect the true thoughts of students at the University. Publicizing these perceptions to the general student body, as is what de facto happens when something is posted to one of these groups, allows the students to deal with these perceptions and beliefs in a public way. Particularly notable on the “Wash U Confessions” page have been the numerous derogatory comments directed at our neighboring school, Fontbonne University. The vast majority of these statements have been decidedly negative, reflecting a sense that our university is “superior.” This prompts certain responses, such as “Confession #494,” that take a far more positive view of the world, rebuking other commenters for their elitist sentiment and commending anyone who seeks self-improvement through education. And therein lies the beauty of an anonymous forum: while it certainly can lead to negative comments and destructive and distasteful opinions (which should generally be policed by the administrators anyway), it provides a forum in which users can debate their true thoughts.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.