By Chantal De Los Santos
Late fall semester of 2021, a cornerstone of student life here at CCNY was created. An account with the username “ccnyconfessions” promised to provide a space for students to share their thoughts about the school, the student body, and any odd comment they’d wanted to make under a blanket of anonymity. In the post-pandemic world we live in, it makes sense for the revitalization of campus-based interactions to occur online.
This account flourished incredibly, garnering almost four thousand followers in its prime, all whilst posting hundreds of confessions. We all waited patiently for the next onslaught of juicy confessions, eager to take a look at what irked City College students that week. Although providing the first real “college interaction” for many students, the account did not go over smoothly with the school’s administration. The confessions account was a breath of fresh air that pushed students to engage in new interactions with their fellow peers, but simultaneously produced an environment where people divulged inappropriate behaviors and used the platform to harass others.
Upon taking a glimpse at the page, you would find regular confessions encompassing topics such as students’ relationship issues, people asking for advice regarding classes, and the prominent topic of incoming students not being able to make friends. The comments would be filled with other students attempting to help their fellow peers the best they could and sending encouraging messages to those who seemed to be having a tough time. For a while, the space seemed safe and cooperative but rapidly descended into a hotbed of disparaging comments. Of course, there isn’t a social media page without its faults, but the guise of anonymity that the page offered gave some people the courage to spew hate speech and unkind words to specific people.
To their credit, the owner of the page seemed to always stray away from giving a spotlight to those who wrote racist, xenophobic, or misogynistic confessions, but, often, confessions speaking negatively about particular people would pass through the cracks. This has caused conflicts in comment sections and people to be heckled based solely on their looks and actions. Adam G. Zimmerman, in his thesis on the subject of online aggression in regard to anonymity, writes that “In these venues of catharsis, one can use the anonymity of the internet as a cloak that allows one to express anything one wishes in a cathartic manner without fear of social identification,” something which can be seen in these aforementioned posts. Students who felt inclined to submit confessions talking ill of a certain person or group of people believed that, because their identity was kept secret, they were free to talk about whomever and whatever came to mind. In reality, this was far from the case. Morality and repercussions are still at play, even in digital spaces.
Thousands of people read these confessions when they’re posted and all begin to create their own opinions based on what their peers might be saying. A naive post talking about how a student is suffering through academic disillusionment will garner many supportive comments. This is the type of positive response in the public eye. The responses and reactions to hateful posts are typically the ones that remain private and unspoken. For example, a post that may complain about how hijabis are dressing on campus (posts like these have been seen on the newer confession pages). How might a girl reading this feel? The anonymity gives way to unwarranted criticisms and often those criticisms hurt the real people behind the screen. So, while the page offers a collaborative judgment-free space, it is also a safe haven for people with malicious intentions.
The confessions page at some point was completely shut down by student life, marking the end of an era. Or, so we all thought. In order to fill the space that the original page left, a couple of new pages sprung up shortly after the original was deleted, just in time for the new semester. Following the same blueprint as the original, all the accounts posted anonymous confessions. However, while some Instagram pages strictly posted confessions, others began to branch out. One page gave updates to the students about campus happenings, one was entirely dedicated to outfits worn by students, and there was even an account exploring hidden areas of the campus. Some accounts are more active than others, but the original CCNY confessions page set a precedent for the future of campus interactions.
While there are negative aspects to the anonymous confessions pages, it seems that the good mostly outweighs the bad. Students have been given a platform in which they can share their thoughts and opinions without facing backlash or hate, something that is a double-edged sword. But following the conception and end of the original page, and the new direction of its emerging successors, there is hope for a new model to be exacted, one in which we can all communicate and make CCNY a better place.