Memo to moderators of new confessions page: Beef up your standards or risk doing real harm

January 28, 2019 — by Jeffrey Ma and Alex Wang

Headlining the Facebook page, saratoga hs confessions, is a Google form with the enticing caption “spill your darkest secrets.” The anonymous form is the way in which more than 1,550 posts have been put on the page as of February.

The page started in early January, and more than 100 posts are coming in daily, ranging from fairly innocuous posts like "P Rob is an amazing person" to objectifying posts like “hot lists” and those about others’ relationships to serious posts regarding topics like depression, suicide and sexual assault.

With the sudden buzz around such a novelty arises questions of the page’s potential harms — perhaps the page is more unhealthy and damaging than its innocuous first impression. While the page offers a safe space to anonymously comment about school issues, it has severe potential downsides. The biggest of these is its seeming lack of moderation; some posts are simply inappropriate, whereas others can’t be contained by just an anonymous submission page, demanding greater actions outside of a mere Facebook post.

Due to the anonymity of the confessions, more students are willing to air secrets that they would otherwise keep to themselves. Although posts regarding depression, suicide and sexual assault may be cathartic for their authors, helping them get something off their chest and release pent-up anxieties and emotions, their audiences should be specialists like those in CASSY and not high schoolers whose comments may be sympathetic but not much else.

While those types of posts may still have some degree of benefit for students’ mental health, many other posts are simply demeaning and perhaps cause emotional stress. Some confessions critique others’ personalities or relationships, using the descriptors like “toxic” and “fake.” However, the biggest culprits in this category are those that list initials of students who the author usually describe as “hot” or “going to get into a good college.”

Among all of these potentially damaging posts, the common moderation issue involves the usage of initials. The process is counterproductive in protecting the identities of the subjects of these posts. Not only are the identities easily guessed at through initials, they also draw more attention to the person in question as people flurry to figure them out, sometimes implicating a wrong person in the process.

Moreover, negatively calling out people’s relationships will undoubtedly hurt people’s feelings and is harmful to their mental health, the opposite of what the page’s intended purpose may have been. Similarly, those who see numerous lists of other students deemed attractive but are not included in these lists can feel left out and look negatively on themselves, leading to a decrease in self-esteem.

In the most extreme sense, some of the especially targeted posts can be considered a form of cyberbullying, defined by the school as “unwanted conduct that takes place over time and that comprises a series of incidents that are severe, pervasive and involve negative actions.” This behavior is unacceptable.

To address these issues, moderation over prospective submissions need to be both stricter and more transparent. Guidelines need to be set and promulgated to ensure that moderators are not deciding subjectively.

Despite these problematic aspects, the confessions page does have some positives. In response to posts about poor mental health and personal struggles, the student community has been overwhelmingly encouraging with support and advice. Many of these confessions may also create a sense of reliability and prompt students to seek help for their problems.

Wholesome posts are no small minority on the page, complementing the successes and positivity of students on campus. These posts foster an environment of positivity, but it’s important to remember that these compliments can be made in real life, too.

So what should be done? Moderators and students alike should turn to addressing issues plaguing the page: Those with serious personal struggles should instead turn to professional help like CASSY; hurtful posts should be eliminated by the moderators; and, above all, the moderators should enact guidelines for the posting of confessions that are clear and focus on the positive usages of the page.