| March 18
March 18 "I'm a compulsive laundry room thief,"
says one Facebook confession. "I'm the reason the 'Public
Urination is Illegal' signs were put up at Coyote Village," says
"I sold books for the semester to go to South Padre for
spring break ... Gotta pay for the booze somehow," reveals yet
By turns rueful and raunchy, these anonymous admissions pop
up on 'campus confession' pages unofficially linked to scores of
high schools and universities.
Like many social media trends, the confession craze
captivates teenagers and 20-somethings - but alarms teachers,
law enforcement officers and counselors.
"It's another creative venue where kids are able to say
hurtful things, and that's frustrating," said Sameer Hinduja,
co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center at Florida
At the same time, the pages can sometimes offer a catharsis
of sorts, attracting heartfelt disclosures from students
struggling with depression, alcoholism or eating disorders.
Classmates often respond with links to counseling sites and
offers to talk.
The anonymity of confession pages is at the core of their
appeal, and they use a simple workaround to Facebook's general
insistence that people use their real identity on the social
Students who set up confessional pages must do so under
their real names, as per Facebook policy. But they can choose to
cloak their identity as page administrators. To keep posts
anonymous, they use free online survey tools such as
SurveyMonkey or Google Forms. Confessors simply click on a link
to open up a blank box where they can type their tell-all.
The page administrator doesn't see identifying information -
just the latest confession.
The pages then prompt visitors to show admiration for the
juiciest confessions by "liking" them and posting comments -
often smart-aleck remarks that can draw fan bases of their own.
"The more outrageous comments attract more attention ... so
there's little incentive to exercise restraint," Hinduja said.
Alisen Lafaive found that out quickly when she began reading
the Facebook confession page for Clarkson University in Potsdam,
New York. "At first, I thought, 'Ooh, Clarkson Confessions! This
ought to be juicy!'" said Lafaive, a junior. Then she began
scrolling through posts filled with crude invective toward
"These things are mean," she said. "My feelings are hurt
even though none of it's directed toward me." She posted a plea
for courtesy but was ignored.
The confessions pages do not violate Facebook rules so long
as the content remains within the bounds of civility, said a
spokeswoman for the social network. But the pages have drawn
complaints from some from principals, college administrators and
Dismayed by the content on two high-school confession pages
in Kalispell, Montana last month, police asked Facebook to shut
them down. Facebook closed one and removed offensive comments
from another - but the student instigators simply started a
third page, said Jason Parce, a police officer in Kalispell.
Parce threatened to charge participants with defamation and
they quickly pulled down their posts. Though some posts were
anonymous, many comments came in through Facebook accounts so
the writers could easily be identified.
"There was a lot of sexually explicit content directed at
specific individuals and a lot of hateful language being used,"
said Parce. "Absolutely, kids are more willing to be crude when
they don't have to face anyone. They hide behind the computer."
High-school pages in Idaho and Arizona have also been shut
down after school officials moved to investigate offensive
Administrators of several confession sites told Reuters that
they review each submission and refuse to post any that seem
Facebook also routinely reviews pages on its site and
responds to any complaints about content. If its reviewers deem
a post objectionable, the social network will remove it or shut
down the site entirely, the Facebook spokeswoman said.
None of these safeguards can determine whether those posting
and commenting on confessions are bona fide students of a
At the college level, the concern isn't bullying so much as
brand protection. Universities including San Francisco State
have asked confession sites to stop using school logos and
photographs of iconic buildings for fear that outsiders might
mistake the many tales of alcohol-fueled sexual conquests for an
official depiction of campus life.
Despite, or perhaps because of, official disapproval, the
fad continues to gain steam - and may be helping Facebook regain
some of its allure among teens and college students. A recent
poll by an online survey tool, Survata, found teens and young
adults aged 13 to 25 used micro-blogging platform Tumblr more
Scores of Facebook confession pages have popped up in recent
months, at small private colleges and huge state universities.
Princeton, Harvard and Yale have pages. So does Lane Community
College in Eugene, Oregon.
Some campuses have Twitter confession accounts as well but
Facebook remains the most popular medium. The University of
Wisconsin-Madison's confessions page has racked up more than
21,000 Facebook "likes." The University of Hawaii at Manoa has
nearly 12,000. College students in India, New Zealand and Great
Britain are baring their secrets online, too.
"It just makes me laugh," said Matt Miller, a biology major
at the University of Hawaii who checks out his classmates'
confessions several times a day. Among the recent posts: a
lament about the difficulty of conversing with beautiful
brunettes, an admission about a romantic relationship with a
teaching assistant, and a cryptic, "Majoring in mathematics.
The campus confessionals teem with references to specific
dorms, classes, fraternities and traditions, giving them an
intimate, gossip-over-coffee feel. Many have also become forums
for posting secret crushes: "To the boy in Art History with the
long hair and blue shoes. You're so cute!!"
The pages can also offer a lifeline to struggling students.
"I want to pass on hope to people who feel like they don't
have any," said Stephanie Suchecki, a graduate student at the
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay who makes a point of
responding to the most wrenching posts.
Moments of compassion, however, are often swamped by the
lewd and the crude - just how some confession junkies like it.
An administrator of the Arizona State University confessions
site recently goaded readers to ramp up their revelations: "What
happened to your crazy stories!?!? Hook ups gone bad?! Party
gone crazy?! Come on guys! This is ASU!"