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Webster University students confess on social media
When the Webster Confessions Facebook page was created on Oct. 10, invites to like the page were delivered rapidly, with an introduction message awaiting each visitor: “Welcome to Webster Confessions where you can profess your undying love to somebody, confess your crimes or talk smack about your roommate. All anonymously of course.”
By the next day the page attained 200 likes, and almost a month later it rests at 796.
Ted Hoef, associate vice president and dean of students, said he has read about similar social media pages at other colleges in higher education publications.
“We’ll sometimes hear about things before they come to Webster University, so social media sites like that have sometimes sprung up in other places, so it’s usually a matter of time before we might see them here,” Hoef said.
However, Webster Confessions was not the first anonymous social media page brought to Hoef’s attention.
On April 17, the first tweet was posted on WebsterSecretAdmirer, a Twitter page designated for Webster students to anonymously confess their campus crushes; however, the posts that appear on the page are often suggestive in nature. The majority of the posts mention crushes by name.
Sophomore Ruby Weaver was searching a friend’s name on Twitter when the search engine took her to WebsterSecretAdmirer. She said she was appalled by a post that mentioned her friend by name. She alerted her friend immediately. The post was removed within 24 hours of the time Weaver’s friend requested it be taken down. But Weaver said she was still upset the following day, not only about the post, but also the existence of the Twitter page.
“Maybe I’m just too deep into the Webster bubble, but I didn’t think those kinds of people (who would post to the site) are here,” Weaver said. “I don’t walk around campus and hear people demeaning women and saying this stuff.”
She contacted Hoef and expressed concern that a prospective student could stumble upon the page and get the wrong impression of the university.
Hoef said that because they didn’t know who sent the message, or who runs the page, there is no good avenue to prevent such statements from appearing on the page.
“If it’s all anonymous there’s not really much that can be done,” Hoef said. “Some sites like Facebook and Twitter do have some standards, and if someone violates those then they might remove something.”
Craig Carmichael, director of digital marketing and communications, said that he and his team do their best to monitor media that discusses or is even loosely affiliated with the university.
If the Global Marketing or Public Relations department do discover or are made aware of a page like WebsterSecretAdmirer or Webster Confessions, they make sure that it does not misrepresent itself as an official university run account and that it does not infringe on the Webster University brand or copyrighted material. Additionally, they watch for statements that could damage the Webster brand. They take action if it is legally necessary.
Patrick Giblin, director of public relations, explained that when they encounter an issue, they redirect the matter to student affairs.
“Beyond that, whatever the students do, the students do,” Giblin said. “We know there’s not much we can or even should do about it because they’re adults.”
Call for provocative content
Although the Webster Confessions Facebook administrator remains anonymous as the posts that appear on the page, the comments and likes on each post are visible to all visitors — name, picture and all. The tone and seriousness of the comments are as versatile as the posts themselves.
Senior Patrik Coyne said he has read almost every post on the page with hope that one day it will take a more provocative turn. Because he finds the majority of the posts to be boring, he chooses to heckle.
“I have a personal, egotistical gratification just from tearing it apart every chance I get,” Coyne said. “When someone posts a confession, I’m just like, this is not a confession, this isn’t interesting, this isn’t funny, this is just a thing, this is a person complaining about their class schedule.”
Coyne said if he were running the page he would censor most of what currently appears on it and would only allow provocative posts. He said most of what is on the page now, are things he would say publicly.
“I think people are afraid to be too serious. I think even though it’s anonymous, I don’t think people trust computers,” Coyne said. “I think they’re a little too hesitant to say anything juicy.”
None of the confessions Coyne has submitted have been posted, but he said he would be fully prepared for feedback if they had been.
“When done tactfully, it’s like stepping into an arena,” Coyne said. “Half of the fun would be to see people’s reactions and hear what other people have to say. Everyone wonders how harshly they’re going to be judged for certain things and because of that fear, they never say it.”
Sophomore Eric Ramirez said he commends the administrator of the page for enforcing rules, but he believes “this forum wasn’t meant to be a nice forum.”
“When you open up a forum like this, that’s supposed to be anonymous, it’s basically cyber bullying at its finest,” Ramirez said. “That’s really what it is; it’s basically made for people to talk trash on each other, for people to put their business out there whether it be their sex lives or fights they get into.”
Ramirez defines a confession as a real, honest, raw opinion and believes peoples’ opinions should never be shut out. He laid out his opinion of the Facebook page in a post on his blog. He shared a link to his opinion piece on Webster Confessions.
Shortly after that he found that he was unable to comment on Webster Confessions’ posts or like them. He believes the administrator blocked him from the page.
Ramirez said he, along with some friends, created their own Facebook page, Real Webster Confessions, but deleted it not long after.
Real Webster Confessions is one of a few Webster-related Facebook pages that have popped up since the creation of Webster Confessions. Two include Webster University Date Ads XXX and Gorlok in the Raw.
Potential for Social Interaction
Although Webster Confessions does not have the shock factor that Coyne and Ramirez were hoping for, they both agree there are positive outcomes that have already, and still could, result from the page.
Chris Hawk, Webster’s student government association (SGA) sergeant-at-arms, said it helps him as a student leader to see what people are saying on the page. However, he said he encourages concerned students to voice their opinions more constructively.
“You should never feel bad about your opinion, so if you have to hide your opinion, that has the potential to just be gossip, and it’s not constructive,” Hawk said. “I think if you have a public forum it needs to be constructive; otherwise, it’s just going to tear apart our little university.”
Hawk said he was pleased by the administrator’s decision to discontinue the inclusion of names in posts, but he said the page still needs a face.
“I just wish there was a little more individual accountability of whoever is running it,” Hawk said. “I’m accountable for every word I say, I never say anything in private, that inherently offends me. If you’re going to say something publicly about someone, you say it damn publicly.”
Bill Stephens, a former Webster student who still sits in on classes at the university, consistently reaches out through comments to those who anonymously post. Because he can relate to some of the posts, he said he feels he has a “sort of duty as a human being” to make peoples’ lives easier. Hawk referred to Stephens as the “wet nurse” of the page.
“I think that it’s our responsibility, especially mine, because I had a really bad childhood,” Stephens said. “A lot of these I can relate to, like the sexual assault ones; I have been sexually assaulted, I can relate to that. The ones about self-image or feeling isolated or alone, I can relate to that, and more so, I can relate to it, but I can also remember the pain.”
Hawk and Stephens both said they were especially struck and saddened by the loneliness expressed in several confessions on the page. Stephens said he can understand the hesitancy of some individuals to socialize with others, and has made a habit of offering his own friendship to these nameless confessors.
“Whenever I make that offer to get coffee or talk sometime or ‘I’ll walk you around campus,’ that is not meant lightheartedly. I mean that 100 percent, and I’ve had several people take me up on the offer.”
Stephens said Webster Confessions serves a purpose that students really need — to come to terms with themselves. He considers the topical nature of other posts — the sexcapades and crime confessions — to be immature, but he doesn’t think users will remember these statuses.
“I think in the long run, we are going to forget all of the negatives about it,” Stephens said. “I think the helping each other, the bonding that’s coming from it is going to be what shines through.”