Compared to apps like Yik Yak or Whisper, Facebook is one of the social media giants less associated with anonymity. The anonymous use of Facebook has also dropped since the company announced its controversial policy that users must register under their real name. However, within the community of Wellesley College students and alumnae, many Facebook groups offer the chance for users to post content without their identity attached.
For current students, Facebook groups such as Wellesley Compliments, Wellesley Crushes and the formerly active group Wellesley Class Confessions post mostly or entirely anonymous submissions. Among the alumnae Facebook groups, which are open to students when they graduate, all groups offer the option to submit anonymously through the group’s moderators, along with the option to submit with their username attached. Orchid, which serves as a place to discuss dating and body issues, is an example of one of those groups.
The reason why anonymity matters differs for each group, but Wellesley Crushes feels it is particularly helpful with romantic feelings.
“Anonymity helps people express things they might otherwise be too embarrassed to share. In romantic crush-type situations, that’s great!” said the anonymous moderators.
For Claire Milldrum ’15, one of the moderators for Orchid, anonymity can also be a way to discuss events that occurred within the Wellesley community if you do not want to implicate those who were present. “This is a Wellesley forum, and we have this shared common experience, which is both great and a hindrance to posting publicly about these things because people know you,” Mildrum said.
Linda Hower Bates ’96 serves as the co-moderator for multiple Wellesley Alumnae groups, all of which allow for anonymous submissions. She believes that having the option to post anonymously on the Facebook groups allows women to feel and be more safe when voicing thoughts and opinions, protects them from shame or being exposed and offers the chance to see the online support of a community that they know.
Each group collects anonymous submissions in a different way. Wellesley Crushes provides an open email address that students may access using a log in on the Facebook page. Wellesley Compliments accepts Facebook messages, which it then reposts anonymously. For Orchid, users can log into a Wendy Wellesley account to post anonymously, while other alumnae groups accept messages by email, private message or even phone.
The typical content of the anonymous posts varies widely depending on the group where they are submitted. For Wellesley Crushes and Wellesley Compliments, current Wellesley students submit compliments and crushes to someone in the Wellesley community, hoping they will reach their intended subject.
But the groups can also have other, unintended effects. In Wellesley Crushes, the group sometimes serves as a reminder of the open and supportive Wellesley community. “We appreciate the crushes we’ve had submitted detailing how students have helped other students through tough times,” said the anonymous moderators of Wellesley Crushes. “We think it’s awesome that Wellesley Crushes has turned into a place that’s both queer-centric and helping to acknowledge the good in our community.”
For the Wellesley Compliments moderator, submitting anonymously also allows an extra level of emotion that is absent from receiving a compliment in person. “When something is anonymous it makes [it] so much more exciting. Whoever receives the compliment is curious about who could have sent it,” the Wellesley Compliments moderator said.
For the alumnae groups, anonymous submissions serve a different purpose and may share experiences of the original poster or solicit advice from other Wellesley alumnae. Milldrum says that the group typically receives one anonymous submission per day or one every other day. These anonymous posts can discuss anything from questions about birth control, emotionally abusive relationships or even great one-night-stand stories.
Milldrum believes that for alumnae, the ability to submit anonymously plays a much different role than it does for students. “Some of the things I post are people asking for genuine advice, and people doing what Wellesley Class Confessions did, which is really just venting and knowledge sharing,” Milldrum said.
Hower Bates appreciates the responses to the anonymous posts that she gets.
“It has been amazing to see how the [anonymous] person will sometimes step from the shadows to update us on what happened after. Or how people who have gone through the same situation reach out and offer their personal contact information to support [the anonymous person],” Hower Bates said.
Even with all of the benefits of anonymous postings, there have still been some negative incidents. The Wellesley Crushes moderators recently shared in a Counterpoint article that they have received numerous inappropriate posts or posts that stereotype the recipients. “The majority of the time we simply don’t publish sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate crushes, but if there’s one that toes the line we may message it to the receiver first and see if they are comfortable with it being posted… In most of those cases the receiver finds it humorous and asks us to publish it anyway, which we do.”
However, for the alumnae moderators, inappropriate submissions have not been an issue. “There were a few posts that as a person it made me uncomfortable to post, but I don’t think it’s ever caused serious problems,” Milldrum said.
Overall, both alumnae groups found anonymity to be more beneficial than bothersome.
“I think anonymous posting has been by and large hugely beneficial. And they can trust within the space of Orchid that people will keep them safe and keep that knowledge to themselves. It allows us to deal with some issues that people may not want to talk about with their identities attached to it,” Milldrum said.
Hower Bates agrees,and has even used the anonymity features personally. “For me, online anonymity provides personal safety while allowing me an outlet to a community I might otherwise miss at this stage in my life,” Hower Bates said.
While the issues discussed by Orchid may appeal to some current Wellesley students, Milldrum politely requests that they not try to join the group until graduation day.