By Gerjanne Hoek
Suddenly it was there. Somewhere in the start of last year, these weird status updates started popping up on my news feed. Things like: ‘My friend is made in China’, ‘I just chugged 700ml of chocolate milk and I don’t know if I will survive this night,’ and classic UCR experiences such as ‘I don’t know if I’m straight anymore.’ Suddenly, people started referring to a particular page when they would bring up news or a rumour. A page where everyone could anonymously post their deepest desires, weirdest questions, or most controversial opinions. This soon led to wild discussions that went beyond the comments section of the posts themselves, topics could be hurtful or sensitive, or mention things that were illegal under Facebook policy guidelines. The platform was blocked several times.
Despite all this, the draw of the page proved to be mysteriously strong to many people. It seemed to be catering to people’s needs in two ways: the need to confess, and the need to indulge in other people’s confessions. A fascinating dynamic, if you ask me. Around the end of the school year, the page had reached its peak, and its blockings led to a full removal, but at the start of the new semester, a new admin took responsibility for its revival. And here we are today, sitting in my room in Roggeveen, ready for a conversation about this modern day confessional.
Indeed, the comparison to the old Catholic rite has struck the admin as well. Upon my question about the purpose of the page they respond with the insight that, “Some people punch walls, some people play video games, some people wanna tell other people, and I think the page is a good place.” They see a deeper purpose behind the confessions than just the thrill of anonymity and the fun of making weird comments: “It’s also a place for people to get stuff off their chest in a way… after all, it’s called confessing. The official confession would take place in a church, in a little booth, which was also anonymous. I think this is the modern day version of the church one.”
Of course, it also serves the purpose of fun and procrastination. The admin describes themselves as exhibiting a good example of such procrastinating behaviour as well. The fun for them also lies in the fact that they have the first view of all the confessions; it’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure. On the one hand, they feel very distanced from it all, seeing as they only post to the page as much as possible. On the other hand one cannot help but wonder who is confessing all this interesting information. However, it’s not as if the admin spends ages on reading and sorting through the list, they explain to me that it’s actually very simple: “I did a little calculation. In two months I’ve posted around 1400 confessions, so that averages out to like 25 confessions a day. And I really am very intent on posting as many confessions as possible. I open the spreadsheet and copy and paste them into Facebook posts – it doesn’t take more than half an hour a day.”
But what if something does get personal, or illegal, I ask. Having seen multiple confessions from individuals feeling suicidal or heavily depressed, I wonder if the admin has ever felt the need to report such confessions. Have they ever felt burdened with the page and the personal stories evident behind the anonymity? To my surprise, they explain that they are very indifferent about these kinds of posts, “Because I don’t know who is posting. The confessions are really 100% anonymous, and there’s no way for me to trace them. I don’t know if it’s the same person every time, or if it’s a different person. I don’t know if they’re serious. A part of me feels like if you really are suicidal then what would the point be of posting it on the confessions page?”
Maybe it is also a confession to yourself that way, I suggest. “Sometimes I read articles that say you should never get help involved from the outside, without someone’s consent, because it might push them away even further. It is just not a possibility for me to try and reach out to them, because I don’t know who they are.” But that is where the people who read the confessions come into play. The admin explains that there are a lot of people who are very supportive and non-judgmental when they react to posts like that. They suddenly give me a confession of their own: “I’ve posted a few confessions myself, that I felt like my heart got broken. And then there were comments from people saying, ‘hey if you really feel down, just send me a message and we can talk about it.’ And I didn’t even know these people, and they offered their help. I feel like in a certain way, confessing is also like therapy, just to vent your heart out, and if there really is a need for help then you can contact the people that react.”
I agree that this distance might be the best solution if you are the one that has to read all these personal confessions again and again, but still, I am curious as to how the admin regards the effect that publishing these anonymous posts can have on the general page atmosphere, and, in a broader sense, our university. Doesn’t this page make it easy for things to get blown out of proportion? I remember that there were two camps at a certain point: people that saw the page as toxic, and people that liked the drama (and the procrastination). The admin explains that only when every other confession is becoming sensitive or negative, they will shut the page down. “But as of now, I think out of a 100 confessions there are only 5 that I can not or will not post, and I think the rest is all okay. It’s not up to me to judge the content too much; I want to be as open as possible. It’s not my content; I’m only putting it out there. I can see why people judge the page in a negative way, but then again, confessions are not supposed to be very clean and nice. That’s just not something that you want to confess about.”
The admin instead emphasizes the fact that the anonymity doesn’t turn the confessions bleak, but that it actually often brings things that are considered taboo out into the open. They laugh, and say, “I feel like there are a lot of things that you want to know but you don’t want other people to know that you want to know…” And I can’t but laugh along and confess that I relate to that. True, you can’t just go around and sit in Elliott and ask people if they want to have a threesome. There’s a lot of things on the page that are considered sometimes to be taboo in society, or just within the UCR community. “But from the people reading it and saying it is weird, there is also going to be a handful of people that wonder the same thing, feel the same way, or can answer the questions because they have a shared experience or same way of life.” The admin explains to me that one of the stronger advantages of the page, in their opinion, is the fact that, if a confession provokes hate for some reason, the hate would just be aimlessly thrown against the post rather than the person writing it. “It’s like a form of security, knowing that other people won’t attack you or insult you, because they don’t know it is you.”
To end our conversation, I ask if there is anything they want to say to the confessors and the people on the page. They share a tip that might be interesting for people that want to be notified if there is a confession about them: send the page a message. “When I’m not sure whether a confession is serious and a person is attacked or whether it’s a friend’s inside joke, the only way for me to verify such posts is if I have a chat with them in the page. But I cannot message someone first, so if you send a message to me and I can answer, then there’s a chat possibility for me to check up on people.” Lastly, they state happily that the work doesn’t bother them, and that they will only stop when they leave UCR. You are invited to step into the digital confession booth.
Gerjanne Hoek, Class of 2018, is a History, Political Science, and Linguistics major from Bunschoten-Spakenburg, the Netherlands.