Confessions of the unheard: A look into social media anonymity

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By Rebecca Rashid

WASHINGTON — In early September, a mysterious account emerged on Instagram titled SAIS Confessions. The first of its kind in the SAIS community, the open forum for public secrets, confessions and generally salacious thoughts sparked immediate attention amongst the student body.

SAIS Confessions quickly became a platform for juicy romantic confessions, subtle racism and emotional vomit as graduate students began confiding in an anonymous Google Form to express their thoughts. With the gravity of the confessions ranging from high-school hallway gossip to legitimate bureaucratic concerns, the page gained traction as a forum for daily entertainment.

The social media platform allows students to submit an unlimited number of comments, thoughts or “confessions” related to the SAIS community. Although explicitly stating “no bullying,” the page has posted sexually explicit comments about professors and racial comments directed at minority groups. Arguing the platform as a forum for honest student opinions, the administrator of SAIS Confessions has stood by their creation.

The Student Government Association (SGA) caught wind of the madness and a member even called out the page questionably, citing the creator as a “Russian troll farm” yet failing to specify any clear reasoning for their disdain.

Although denying culpability, the rumored creator of the page spoke with The SAIS Observer about the controversial platform. “I have an intense passion for social media and its transformative powers…and I think it’s a great platform in that regard. I think a lot of students here feel isolated because their peers put on a bravado and give off the appearance of having their lives together.”

“An anonymous platform allows people to voice their true struggles without worrying about their security clearances or networking opportunities. SAIS Confessions shows students they are not alone, and there is value to that. … I hope it continues and no ‘disciplinary action’ is taken since no one is really doing anything wrong.”

The rumored owner proceeded to deactivate their account and order was restored. That is, until SAIS Confessions II appeared just days later.

With a nearly identical format to the initial page, SAIS Confessions II resurfaced with a stronger presence and an established popularity on campus. Its caption reads “SAIS Confessions back from the dead.”

SAIS Confessions II sought to make a statement against the institutional authorities at SAIS. Arguing itself to be a platform for open discussion and enhanced trust, SAIS Confessions II has garnered infamy among students in a matter of weeks from all three SAIS campuses.  

Accounts like SAIS Confessions are popular social media platforms at institutions of higher education in the U.S. From NYU Secrets to Stanford Confessions, these pages follow a format similar to an institutionally specific gossip column. With pages like NYU Secrets from New York University boasting a following larger than its own student body, these seemingly insular social media platforms have the capacity to shape public opinion of their respective institutions.

This new cyber phenomenon even boasts its own Wikipedia page and first emerged as a Facebook page in 2012 as a restricted 18+ page called “OMG Confessions.” Sparking debates around cyberbullying and institutional image, these pages pose different threats depending on the demographic they represent. As a high school student told Buzzfeed in 2013, “Everyone posts so much about themselves. It is sort of disturbing, borderline creepy, but sickly entertaining.”

Students questioned around SAIS DC say, “I don’t know why it’s such a big deal, lots of schools have things like this and it doesn’t mean anything.”

“I follow it. I think it’s dumb, it’s just people complaining. It’s all very negative.”

Up until now, the administrator of SAIS Confessions II remains unverified.

The challenges confessions pages pose to existing institutional structures should not be ignored. Schools and universities remain the victim of potentially finite but irreversible damage to institutional norms and campus culture. These pages air out unwanted commentary otherwise deemed inappropriate by educational standards by evading all checks to authority through anonymity and free social platforms.

How can we respect and maintain institutional structures while remaining adaptable to all the technological innovations of modern life? Using social media as a platform for ‘open discussion’ only to mask identities and accountability proves the ability of technology to revolutionize human interaction but not innovate thought. These issues are expected in developmental stages of life like high school, but why are the degrading and mindless opinions of our peers and our respective institutions still of interest to graduate students?

The SAIS Confessions’ of the online world are microcosms of the socio-political environment today — rife with unanswered questions, the public desensitized to institutional indecency and a society blind to the necessity of accountability as emotions triumph reason, even for those who should know better.

Editor’s note: The suspected moderator of the page received threats which they alleged came from a member of the SGA. However, we did not find sufficient evidence to corroborate that claim or any threats of disciplinary action by the student government.