It seems Seattle University can’t get enough of those dirty little secrets.
Since May, a new SU Confessions Facebook page has continued to share secrets anonymously on the online forum—a place for students to have opinions without attachment to identity.
A space, really, for opinions without repercussions. Though other students are able to comment on the posts made on the page, the confessor’s identity is never actually known, making their venting quick, easy and inaccessible.
I have periodically been checking the page to see what people are talking about and I recently came across a post that had caused a definite amount of tension that really caused me to think about the role of anonymity in an online forum.
Number 111 is upset about being overcharged for food at C Street. In their frustration, the confessor names Linda, a C-Street employee, as the woman who is overcharging them. The person then goes on to write: “Whenever I see her in the morning at checkout, I always think, ‘Overcharge me again and I’ll have you deported.’ And sometimes I just sit down at C-Street and among the many things I think/fantasize about, I fantasize about calling immigration on her for charging me $15 for a burrito and a bowl of fruit.”
Comments on the confession exploded.
“You shut your whore face Linda is the sweetest woman alive,” wrote the first comment which proceeded to receive 180 likes. Students then went on to point out the problematic pieces of the post.
“I did hear that they started charging extra for racism,” wrote another comment with 81 likes. Several students continued to post about the comment’s mention of deportation—the confessor consistently called out for their stereotyping comment.
As I read all of this I couldn’t help but think about how easy it was for someone to post this comment anonymously and then never really have to deal with it again. In the online world, we aren’t held accountable for the words we say. We can hide behind anonymity and screen names and aliases.
After perusing through the page, I have come to the conclusion that sites like this make me a little uncomfortable. In one sense, it can be a great place for people to have a vent session. I am all for fulfilling the need to get something off your chest.
But in another sense, being able to post anonymously allows people to speak and write without any sort of obligation to deal with the effects their words might have. We should be forced into that obligation. If you are willing to say something, then you better be ready to defend that or deal with the responses that come to you.
Perhaps my idea of the importance of ownership comes from my background in journalism—a forum that ethically calls on me as a reporter to attach my name to what I write and say. In this world, we have bylines on our stories and contact information for a reason. Not only are we prepared for feedback, but we welcome it.
If you aren’t open to that feedback, then rethink your words.
The online world is an incredible resource for us in the world of communication. Comment and response can be instantaneous.
But when it comes to anonymity, I think we are letting people off the hook. It raises the question in me of what people are really thinking. If someone can walk through Seattle U, participate in a social justice oriented mission, write critically on class assignments, but still have a mindset for comments such as that post, then we have a definite disconnect between thought and culture.
So how do we balance that out? I don’t know, for sure. But we could start by not letting people hide from their opinions behind an SU Confessions page.