College Students Share Confessions Online, Anonymously

Article excerpt

There was a time when college students used bathroom walls or personal ads in campus newspapers to express their love or disdain for others.

But why do that, when you can put the same stuff on Facebook for the world to see? Particularly on sites designed for just this sort of thing.

Pick any college in the area, and you are likely to find at least one of these so-called confessions or secret admirer pages dedicated to its students, who are promised anonymity.

You'll find students expressing lust or loathing for classmates. You'll read complaints and compliments about instructors and roommates, confessions of cheating and a lot of playful banter.

It's what used to show up (and probably still does) scribbled out as graffiti, said Steve Jones, a communication professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"It had a certain confessional quality," Jones said. "Some of the intent is pretty much the same."

To some, the sites do offer the potential for cyberbullying and general harassment. And like anything else on the Internet, there's always the danger of discussions veering into controversial waters.

Still, most agree these sites serve as an outlet, offering students a forum to let others know what they're thinking. And they provide a quick and easy way for students to learn they've caught someone's eye.

Take, for example, a post that popped up a couple weeks ago on the Wash U Admirers page: "Julian Clarke is bangin in those red pants today. yum."

Clarke, a freshman from Westport, Conn., laughs about the posting, while admitting to some conflicted emotions.

"As much as I was flattered by it, it was a little creepy," Clarke said.

Creepy or not, it's one of the prices we pay for living in such a well-connected society, said Greg Lastowka, a law professor at Rutgers, who specializes in technology issues.

People have always talked about each other. Now it's just easier to become aware that you are the subject of someone else's interest. But that, by itself, does not constitute harassment.

"Some people don't want attention and don't want people talking about them. They might find that uncomfortable," Lastowka said. "But we have a First Amendment tradition in this country."

Aside from ego boosts and entertainment value, the anonymous posts and the reactions they draw also offer insight for those who read the pages, said Kristen Faddis, a junior from St. Louis at Washington University.

"It's interesting to see how people think on campus," Faddis said. "It's my community."

And while some worry that the anonymity of these confession sites could lead to malicious postings, Faddis and other users say the conversations are, largely, humorous and light-hearted.

"If you've seen a lot of the comments, we're pretty tame," Faddis said.

Yet that's not always the case.

The Wash U confessions page is actually in its second life after an earlier version was shut down after someone posted a racial slur. …