In my first semester of college, the fall of 2015, I was a big user of Yik-Yak, an app that let participants read and post anonymous comments visible to people within a range of a few miles. The use of the app died down nationwide once it became unanonymous in my sophomore year, and has since shut down entirely. Nevertheless, the anonymity it provided people made it a very popular online platform for a few years.
When I first arrived at Wellesley, I was struck by the guarded and measured tones that many students spoke with, in and out of class. These were not negative traits to me, but very different from the mostly unthought-out flow of words that I was used to hearing from my high school peers. Thus, Yik-Yak appealed to me because, as I read people’s anonymous posts, I thought I was finally finding out what college was like “uncensored.”
Now, in the spring semester of my senior year, another anonymous forum has become popular at Wellesley, and I cringe at the viewpoints I had as a younger student regarding Yik-Yak. Reading through the “Wellesley Uncensored Confessions” page on Facebook oftentimes leaves me feeling uncomfortable and frustrated, mostly because the platform’s anonymity lends itself to problematic posting by students confident that the comment will not be traced to them.
Like Yik-Yak, many of the posts on the now quasi-infamous Facebook page are racist, misogynistic, transphobic and ableist. Because anyone in the world with access to Facebook can use “Wellesley Uncensored Confessions,” even outsiders of the Wellesley community can use the page to spread their hateful beliefs, all with the ease of not having their name attached to the post. For example, one particularly frightening incel posted about their hatred for women a few months ago, lamenting that women have “replaced God” in today’s society.
Others use the page to attack students. One of two rules on the page is “Don’t call out individual people by name if [you’re] dragging them,” yet there have been many instances in which students have been called out on the page, if not by name, then by other traits that are easily identifiable such as their position within a organization. Many posts calling out individual students have not been removed, and it’s unclear what does warrant the removal of a post.
People also use the page to talk about their mental health problems. They graphically discuss how terrible Wellesley makes them feel. These are the users that I am the most concerned about. Using an anonymous forum like “Wellesley Uncensored Confessions,” while giving people a place to vent their emotions, provides no concrete help, save that of any caring (yet for the most part unqualified) commenters who choose to reach out.
Indeed, these types of comments reveal one of the biggest problems with the confessions page, which is that it overwhelmingly does nothing to help people. People reaching out with problems are not receiving the professional attention that they need. Furthermore, the confessions page in general is doing nothing to help improve the campus culture that it’s tearing down.
Devotees to the page may argue that it is not meant to help people but to provide a platform for people to talk about Wellesley without being censored, and for those interested in reading about what life at Wellesley is like. Yet the page in no way accomplishes these aims, because it does not accurately give an entire picture of what life at Wellesley is like. Instead, it just reflects the worst of it.
In my opinion, the confessions page should be disabled entirely. I believe that as long as people have such a freeform way to spread hate, they will eagerly use it. However, I know that this isn’t a realistic option as long as it has so many supporters.
Instead, users who post on an anonymous page to share their views on race, class, gender and ableism should think about what they want anonymity for, and if they are intentionally spreading hostility to minority groups. People who genuinely have questions about these issues shouldn’t be afraid to attach their names to them.
For people struggling with mental health who are afraid to come forward publicly, the Stone Center or Active Minds could create a separate anonymous forum, and provide informed responses so that those affected can get proper help.
Above all, except when they feel unsafe, people should not turn to anonymity to express their views. Forums like “Wellesley Uncensored Confessions” should be abandoned in favor of outlets where participants are required to disclose their identity, in order to stop the spread of ignorance and hate at the college.