‘Confessions’ pages are state-of-the-art in high school gossip

1. The Internet is weird.

The new craze among young people is Facebook “confessions” pages, which are something like a state-of-the-art method for writing graffiti on a bathroom wall. “Confessions” posts can be gross or petty or cute, but they are having real consequences.

I will explain what they are, but first understand the scale of the fad. There are “confessions” pages for Wausau West and East, D.C. Everest, UWMC, Merrill, Antigo, Rhinelander. All of them have hundreds of likes; some have more than 1,000. And growing.

It was a Facebook “confessions” page that last week spread the (false, as it turned out) rumor that Wausau West was doing away with its mod scheduling system — see the Daily Herald Media video about the rumor above. Yesterday a member of the D.C. Everest School Board contacted me to ask if I’d seen Everest’s and whether there was anything law enforcement or school administration should do about it.

I’m not linking to the pages because this is a family blog and the content is profane — also sophomoric (sometimes funny), also sometimes truly offensive and bullying. If you are so inclined you can find them with a simple Facebook search. And if you are in the target demographic then you do not need me to tell you any of this; these things are very popular right now.

In my view, anything that is causing this much trouble is at least worth thinking about for a few minutes.

2. What they are

They are simple Facebook fan pages that link to a form on some third-party site — I’ve seen Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, others — that then is set up to auto-post a message anonymously for all to see.

Want to confess a secret crush? Go for it. Brag about real or imagined sexual exploits? Post away. Want to say something nasty and bullying about someone at your school? Yeah, there is that, too.

The initial comments are all anonymous, but the responses people leave are normal Facebook comments — i.e., with names attached — and this often leads to a weird dynamic where people post ugly or dirty or mean stuff anonymously and then people rally to the bullied one’s defense in comments or scold others for being so low-minded. (Presumably those high-minded individuals came to the confessions page looking for strictly constructive, G-rated materials.)

It’s very clear that all of these pages are dominated by high school or maybe college students and so the content is the sort of thing that high school students think is important: who is hot, who had sex in a weird place, drinking and drug stories, angsty statements about not fitting in. Some of it feels very serious; some is clearly 100% made up; some is reasonably funny.

I guess I am getting old because it all feels very distant to me.

And yet. There is something captivating about the pages. Love declarations and torch songs. Secrets: I’m gay and afraid to admit it. Frustration with school. Desire to escape your hometown. Crush on a teacher. Jealous gossip, mean-spirited put-downs. Made up gossip and trollish baiting.

High school. It’s high school. These pages are a glimpse at the brutal hierarchies and fiendish insecurity that is everyone’s high school experience. It is disturbing to behold but also so, so familiar to anyone who ever was 16.

3. Examples

Here’s a comment that I found to be a hilarious exercise in missing the point:
i bet an asian posted this

Here are some that give a sense of some of the sillier stuff you see:
WW confessions 2
M confessions
WW confessions 1

As I say, this is a family blog, so I’m going to stop here.

4. Anonymous, sort of

There was a time, back in the days of modem whines and bulletin board systems, when anonymity was something close to the a defining feature of the Internet.

The Internet has gotten a lot less anonymous in the last few years — coinciding with the rise of Facebook, I’d observe — but that Wild West no-one-knows-you’re-a-dog conception of what the Internet is remains part of its DNA. Sites like Reddit and 4chan still depend on anonymity and while lots of good stuff comes out of both, both also retain some of the monstrous bullying and ugly group dynamics that seem always to follow, we’ve learned, when people are anonymous at their keyboards. Id, id, id.

The difference here is that these pages exist in a state of semi-anonymity that I actually think is something a bit new. They are geographically bounded, for one thing. The immediate game commenters play is to guess who posted this or that anonymous comment. The confessions pages are a place where you can say the things to people you know. The posts are things you wouldn’t have the courage to say out loud — or things that, then again, in the right mood, at the right party, you just might.

And yeah, they say some terrible things. I think it is safe to say the D.C. Everest board member who emailed me has a right to have concerns. I would hope that school administrators, if they can’t take the sites down — which I don’t think they can — will at least keep an eye on them.

5. ‘Hang in there’

I remember adolescence as a brutal and terrible time and I had an okay time in high school, you know, sort of. But all the dumb teen bravado masking deep feelings of insecurity and shame, all that is just about unmistakable in the posts I’ve read on “confessions” pages.

But guess what. There’s a spectrum. There are lots of friendships on display as well as rivalries. There are inside jokes and pop culture references and people who are really trying to say something genuine. Like, I have hope for this person:
R confessions

And then, improbably — not all the time, but not entirely rarely, either — there are even comments that are truly empathetic and kind:
WW confessions end

So maybe the kids are all right after all.

About Robert Mentzer

I am the opinion editor at Daily Herald Media.
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