Over Thanksgiving Break, a website on Facebook titled “Anonymous Online School Confessions” went viral. Initially good-natured and cheeky, the site degraded into a seemingly heartless free-for-all that threatened not only the reputation of the school, but offended me, my friends, and my classmates. The article below expresses my thoughts on allowing this page to continue, and doubts about the benefits of doing so.
We live in a culture where free speech is not only allowed, but celebrated. One of the core principles of the United States Bill of Rights, free speech allows any man or woman to express what he or she believes without censorship or restraint (with some legal exceptions, which will rarely touch most of our lives). While the text of the amendment is starkly simple, interpretation of how far the right to free speech extends in the Digital Age is much more complicated. In the vast majority of online forums, the Internet allows anyone to anonymously post whatever they would like without being forced to take accountability.
Anonymity became the norm because of what it means: the author is not known. Without any chance of being reprimanded, people are able to speak out against a higher power, including tyrannical governments and abusive workplaces. Here at the OHS, we use anonymous surveys to collect suggestions for improvement; for example, in our end-of semester surveys, students can offer constructive criticism without feeling awkward about criticizing their teachers. In this case, remaining anonymous is great. Anonymity is a fantastic concept that has lots of potential to help society.
But what happens when, instead of being productive, anonymity becomes hurtful? In the case of forums where members have no power to effect change, anonymous comments are essentially only helpful to those who need to get something off their chest. There is a great quote from the intro song of Pretty Little Liars about secrets: “[Why] do we tell? / They burn in our brains /Become a living hell… everyone tells.” This quote articulates perfectly why people feel the need to confess: to make themselves feel better. Maybe it is selfish, but at least we are exercising free speech, right? Online (anonymous) confession pages allow people to dissipate the angst their secrets are causing them, while enjoying the same rights as victims of tyranny.
But giving anonymous free speech to a confessions page can be almost like drunk driving. Sure, you might get home safely, but chances are that you will hurt yourselves or others in the process. Anonymity removes accountability. When people no longer feel accountable, suddenly they are free to say whatever they want without consequence. This freedom is what makes anonymous free speech so dangerous! Possibilities abound for anonymous posters to hurt addressees. I believe that it was Mill who decided that one’s freedom extends only as far as that it doesn’t interfere with that of another. There were many cases on the Facebook page where posts were downright creepy and offensive to the addressees or brought up serious issues such as academic dishonesty. It suddenly transformed from a few good-natured, funny confessions into serious, hurtful, and downright offensive confessions.
That being said, the possibility of effecting positive change on an anonymous forum is slim, mostly because the admin does not look at it. Anonymous confession is not the path to absolution. If you have a crush on someone, do not post it anonymously online. Rather, text that boy to tell him. If you feel like an online school is not for you, it will not help to post about it anonymously. Rather, sit down with your parents and discuss what can be changed.
For these reasons, this confessions page should be taken down because it is a catalyst for malice. Only negative events will transpire from a forum that allows anonymous persons to post hateful, offensive, and serious confessions without any responsibility for them. I truly believe that we are in a community in which students are safe enough to make their voices heard, without a veil of anonymity. This confessions page is a crutch and we are better than this.
I invite you to post your thoughts in the comment section below, or to submit your own co-op to the OHS Newspaper. Thanks for reading!