From raunchy stories to racism, a throng of Facebook ‘confession’ pages are giving university students a chance to air their dirty laundry. Johanna Deutsch reports.

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A few weeks ago, while completing my daily (read: hourly)  perusal of Facebook, I came across a post made by one of my Friends (read: acquaintance I no longer make eye contact with). In it he decried a new Facebook page run by students from the American College that he did an exchange at. The premise of the page was this: users are encouraged to submit ‘confessions’ or ‘secrets’ regarding their student experiences at the College via private message. The administrators will then publish the juiciest secrets on the page’s wall, withholding the author’s true identity.

Ingenious idea, right? Potentially hilarious, mildly obnoxious and reeking of youthful initiative. Coming right after whiskers on kittens, confession pages would be up there on my Julie Andrews-inspired list of favourite things.

The only problem is that posts like these were the ones making the cut:

“I think her name is Taylor M—- that bitch is the fattest slut on campus”

“I’m hungry for Marton K——- That boy gets me drippin. Too bad he’s a faggot and I ain’t no fag hag.”

When the dog bites and the bee stings, my – it sure does hurt.

This college is not alone; a number of US Universities have recently come under fire for having similar student-run Facebook pages. Last month, Facebook heeded public outrage when it banned the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s page for publishing a photo of a lifeless girl strewn across a tiled floor, just days after a student passed away on campus.

The issues here are numerous (and obvious). Facebook has a notoriously lax policy when it comes to censoring potentially offensive material published on their site. Its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities states that content cannot “bully, intimidate, or harass any user” but previous cases indicate a willingness on Facebook’s part to classify offensive material as “controversial humour”, thereby exempting it from deletion 

“What about the responsibility of the University”, you say exasperatedly? Universities may keep tally of your printer usage to the penny, but for their students’ welfare, it seems they have been turning a blind eye. This is because Universities are not directly associated with the running of these pages and are therefore reluctant to accept responsibility for their content. This is despite many pages counting a number of paid employees, alumni and official donors as subscribers. For those feeling victimised by sexist, racist or homophobic comments, where can they turn for help? Cue exasperation.

Before you stow this all away in your ‘only-in-America’ mental folder (think lacrosse, the National Rifle Association and Honey Boo Boo), I should clarify that similar things have long been happening on Aussie shores. In 2011, Triple J’s Hack program ran a story about a Facebook page based in Bunderberg, NSW titled the ‘Bundy Root Rater’ . True to its name, the page… erm published some rather graphic reports about members of that community as reviewed by their erm… partners. What’s more? Bundy isn’t the only town ‘sizing up’ their talent.

Not surprisingly, over the past few weeks it seems Australian Universities have also jumped on the Confession Page bandwagon. Hundreds of Universities across the country, including UNSW, USYD and our very own UTS have become proverbial repositories of profane, sexually-frustrated and quite frankly unhygienic, student admissions.

I got in touch with the administrator of UTS Confessions, which, with over 2000 Likes, is our university’s most popular Facebook confession Page. I asked Admin what s/he believes is the value in such pages and whether the concept has been unfairly judged. According to Admin, it seems that confession pages have exploded onto the student scene because they are the latest, greatest manifestation of good ol’ fashioned free speech. Admin says the anonymity of UTS Confessions allows students to uninhibitedly express their feelings, be they lighthearted musings,

“I’m glad there’s no such thing as a walk of shame at UTS… No campus, no problems”

or innermost secrets,

“Whenever I’m on my break, I go to the computer labs or library and act like I’m studying because I have no one to          hangout with”

It is through UTS Confessions that Admin hopes students in 2013 will “touch on sensitive issues”, inspire “some engaging dialogue” but remain the place where we can boast about our made-up sexual exploits. Forty years ago female students burnt their bras for gender equality; today we complain that the guys in IT need to up their game and ask the girls out (THEY’RE SINGLE!).

In all, the posts on UTS Confessions suggest that we have a thoughtful, vibrant and downright kinky bunch of students. The number of offensive posts are few – “Too many Jews at UTS (Liked by 14 people) – and should be forgotten, quickly. Sure, some of you are posting things that would have your Grandma (or the Police) on your back, but isn’t that kind of swagger, what being a student at UTS is all about?

I’ll leave you with the wise words of Admin, “Our page does seem to be a lot more explicit than the other Uni’s [pages]…but we are a young and progressive Uni and on the whole so are our students.”