Confession boards have been popular in Stirling since 2018 with the creation of @uosconfessions. Since then, two more pages have been inspired, @uospinboard and @uossharingspace, and students of Stirling have flocked to the Instagram accounts to share their embarrassing tales and depraved secrets.
The content on these pages are often silly, light-hearted confessions that shed a light on the ridiculousness of student life. But sometimes students use the anonymity of the pages to release what they cannot share anywhere else.
This may be a part of their identity that they are not ready to fully express yet, or it can be a disturbing act that should not see the light of day, never mind the glow of your phone screen.
When talking about anonymity online it is common to say that all consequences are removed. But that isn’t completely true is it? There is always someone pulling the strings behind the scenes. In this case, there is always someone that must make that final decision about whether something can be shared.
There have been times when posts have slipped through the cracks and have had the potential to trigger our most vulnerable students. So, what happens when these users must make difficult ethical decisions on behalf of the student population?
The owner of the Instagram account @uospinboard, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Brig “some people have submitted quite frankly disgusting things. [There has] been a few occasions where there have been some students outing the likes of sexuality and orientation of other students when they aren’t out yet”.
In this case, it can be easy to decide what is right or wrong but when the lines blur it can be a bit more difficult, “I have two people close to me who know my identity running this page whenever I’m unsure on if it is a good idea to not post something, I ask them for a second opinion to ensure what is being shared is right.”
The type of vigilance that these creators need is immense and when you remember that they are also students with university work and lives to keep up with, the task can seem daunting, “Because I don’t want to upset or offend anyone in the slightest, I monitor everything almost 24/7.”
We also need to remember that both confession page owners that spoke to Brig were adamant that at any stage posts can be removed, “I wanted this page to be a safe space so if anybody gets offended by anything or doesn’t agree I’m more than happy to take it down” @uospinboard told Brig. While it is clear the owners of the confession pages that Brig spoke to had the best intentions when starting up the pages, it can’t be ignored that there are elements that are simply out of their control.
For example, comment sections under posts are often rife with teasing and judgement from followers who forget there is a real people behind the confessions.
The fact is when we remove people’s identities, we remove any repercussion for their actions, but we also remove any guilt from the commenters who pass their judgement freely.
Brig spoke to several students who follow the pages in question and while many enjoyed the content, there were others like, first year primary education student Ellie Keenan, who were slightly worried “I have seen people get very brave because of their anonymity, saying downright cruel things to others just because there aren’t the same consequences”.
There is an element to this phenomenon that feels like screaming into the void, Individuals think they can say whatever they want and walk away from any responsibility, on both sides. We never expect a response, but we still feel better to have done it says Senior lecturer of sociology at Stirling, David Griffith, “Whether they send the message or not is irrelevant, very often it is just that element of being able to put down into words the things we don’t want to speak about.”
For many it is more important to be heard and less about being answered. This is a powerful thing for someone struggling with questions about their identity or even tackling mental illness but what power does this give to somebody looking to cause harm? And why are we so obsessed with being heard?
Boredom is the easy answer. Being stuck inside for nearly a year can turn you mean and clingy and looking for attention. So, we seek validation online from complete strangers rather than trusting our loved ones. And let us not forget we are the generation that trolled club penguin chat rooms looking for companionship. We have spent so much of our lives looking at screens and being separated that we now look for the truth at the end of Google searches and Instagram feeds.
But have we learned nothing? Everything here can be photoshopped to look beautiful and before you know it that friendship you made through the screen is emptier than what you once thought.
Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to say that these pages are dark corners of the internet that we must not touch or that it is impossible to make meaningful relationships online, because that is ridiculous.
Most of the time these pages offer solace to students looking to take a deep breath and maybe have a laugh. Stuart Davie, a first-year student at Stirling told me, “For me the confession pages are a funny and interesting way to see what is going on with the university life in a pandemic and to see how it has changed.” Frequent commentor, Angus Clarke, often tries to offer advice to those in need, “It’s a simple nice thing to do. If I feel like I have something to say that might help someone I will”.
Another page owner, @uossharingspace, was clear that the only motive for starting the page was to have a good time, “I went into it for a bit of fun and I had really no expectations for it…I loved the content of the [other] pages and I hoped other people might enjoy it too.” The page has even opened the opportunity to find love when everything is shut down, “I had posts about somebody looking for a specific someone and I managed to get them into contact with each other”.
However, we need to remain sceptical of what we see on these pages. Not everything is true, not everything is that simple, and not everything needs our judgement. If this were a real void, we could say our piece and let the words hang. That way the people who need it can get everything they need off their chest and the people that want to cause chaos do not get the attention that they crave.
Maybe that defeats the purpose of the pages, but it would make the space a whole lot nicer. So, carry on, spill your secrets and have your fun but before you press send on that confession or that comment, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it for comfort or is it for some one-sided company? Remember you are not just shouting into the abyss when it is in someone else’s inbox.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: medium