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Facebook confessions pages: An examination

Anonymous Facebook confessions pages have captivated and alarmed Concordia’s campus.

The pages — Confessions of a Cobber, Cobbers Confess and Cobber Mingle — have each impacted the campus in their own way. They have made students laugh, made them cry and have even put some in danger.

Pages like these are not new to Concordia.

Last April, The Concordian reported on Concordia College Confessions, a Facebook page unaffiliated with the college that posted anonymous submissions. Although some of the page included lighthearted posts like professions of romantic interest in fellow Cobbers, its heavier content, such as contemplations of suicide, made the page controversial. The article ended with foreshadowing of the page shutting down.

Concordia College Confessions was, in fact, deleted shortly after the publication of that article, although not primarily because of the content of its posts.

“The moderator announced in a post that he/she had been receiving many threats and messages about violating copyright or trademark issues,” said the moderator of Confessions of a Cobber, a senior at Concordia who has requested anonymity, in an interview conducted via email. “The old page used the Concordia logo as the profile picture and cover photo, so I think that is how the problems started.”

ConfessionsStoryPostsWith the creation of a new page with a slightly different name, the new moderator, using stock photos instead of official Concordia images, moved to continue the confessions legacy.

Since its creation March 26, the Confessions of a Cobber page has accumulated over 1,200 likes. According to its moderator, the page receives about 20 submissions per day. However, not all these posts — which are submitted anonymously via Survey Monkey — are actually posted on the page.

“It’s pretty hard to decide what I should and should not post on the page, so I usually go with my gut feeling,” the moderator said. “I usually ask myself, ‘If this post was about me or a group that I participated in, would I be offended?’”

Some of the time, the page’s posts are not intended to offend, but rather to compliment or flatter. For example, it is common to see specific people mentioned in a post for an impressive performance at a student concert, for having a contagious personality or for being physically attractive.

In fact, junior Ellie Beeson has been posted about in all three of these capacities.

“There’s been several (posts, but) I don’t really count because I think that’d be silly,” Beeson said. “Most of them, funny enough, have been about romantic things; there’s been a couple that have been totally day makers, which is nice.”

Beeson considers the posts directed at her to be innocent and appreciated.

“I see it as flattery,” she said. “I’ve never felt threatened by the page.”

Though many posts are of this nature, there is a flip side of the page that acts more as a hotbed for cyberbullying than for compliments.

For example, since Confessions of a Cobber’s inception, several of its posts have referred to junior Kathryn Olson by name. Some of the posts have been positive, but many others have criticized her personal choices about her appearance, such as sometimes choosing to not wear makeup.

In the past couple months, there have been a couple posts that Olson has deemed particularly hurtful. One such post described Olson as attractive only when she dresses up.

“And then this post came up where it said maybe I wouldn’t be single right now if I actually paid more attention to my physical appearance,” Olson said. “And I got very, very upset and at first really broke down.”

In response to the posts, Olson organized an event on Facebook called “Showcase of Natural Beauty.” The event, which took place Oct. 17, was “about showing the world who you truly are … (and) about not caring what other people think about you,” Olson said.

Overall, Olson has mixed feelings about Confessions of a Cobber.

“(A)lthough sometimes … (they) are really cute and fun to read and sometimes people use it for good, like to really lift up a person’s day, I do think that there are too many posts that are negative,” she said.

Sophomores Jessica Prieto and David Kwiecien have also been posted about on Confessions of a Cobber. Prieto and Kwiecien, who are in a relationship, have been criticized numerous times for their public displays of affection, particularly while in Anderson Commons.

“It’s not like we’re making out in front of everyone. We are literally pecking on the cheek, peck on the lips — that’s it,” Prieto said.

According to Kwiecien, in addition to consulting William MacDonald, director of public safety, he and Prieto, who both work in Anderson Commons, asked their bosses about their behavior. He said their response was that it is not against any policies.

Kwiecien blames the anonymity of the posts facilitated by Confessions of a Cobber for the bullying.

“They could’ve come up at any point and told me, but they hide anonymous confessions,” he said.

Prieto said she flagged most of the posts referring to her and Kwiecien; as a result, those posts were taken down by Facebook.

Even though the posts have been removed, they have still had an impact on how Prieto and Kwiecien now interact on campus, because they are concerned about cyberbullying.

“I’ve stopped showing affection completely to him and that’s not fair to him,” Prieto said.

Bruce Vieweg, associate vice president and chief information officer of the college, echoed that the nature of the page allows for a different type of bullying experience than what may happen in person.

“Suddenly with the cloak of anonymity, maybe we would … have less concern whether or not that would hurt you or not, or me or not,” he said. “It dehumanizes us.”

Besides Confessions of a Cobber, there are two other notable pages that utilize the confessions format, Cobbers Confess and Cobber Mingle. Both pages were created in September due to what their moderators perceived as growing demand for the types of posts Confessions of a Cobber offers.

The moderator of Cobbers Confess has requested to be called Roger, the identity used when operating the page. In an email interview, Roger, who leads “a team of less than ten people with access to the page,” explained that he simply wants more posts to be available for Concordia students to read.

“I don’t want people to think that we are copycats or just trying to mooch (off) some attention that confessions are getting,” he said. “We simply are here to entertain, and the more choices people have the happier they will be.”

The content of Cobbers Confess, which has more than 500 likes, is similar to that of Confessions of a Cobber; it ranges from concerns over classes and homework to homecoming drinking escapades. The page also has a reputation for posting more vulgar confessions, and Roger largely embraces this.

“I will admit we like to post things with a little more shock value,” Roger said. “Sure, I love to hear about people’s love for the Concordia community … but we are all college students, and we definitely want to hear what someone did with their roommate’s sister.”

The third page, Cobber Mingle, is unique from its predecessors. Shortly after Cobbers Confess was created, there was a call for a different type of confessions site.

“My fellow moderator and I were on (Confessions of a Cobber) one day … and a lot of people were complaining about (how) there wasn’t a site for anonymous love confessions,” said one of the two Cobber Mingle moderators, who only wishes to disclose that he is a male Concordia student.

“(S)o, we went on Facebook, created a page (and) labeled it Cobber Mingle,” he said. “If you build it, people will come; they found the page, and now it’s a pretty steady thing.”

Some posts on Cobber Mingle, which has more than 400 likes, merely refer to someone as attractive, whereas others attempt to solicit individuals for romantic encounters. These posts sometimes include an email address or CPO to facilitate the connections.

One female junior, who requested to not be named in the article, said she has used the site in pursuit of a relationship. So far she has had one date through the page.

“We just hung out in my room and watched movies, so it definitely had date aspects, but it was more of just a chill get-to-know-you sort of thing,” she said.

She feels that she uses the page wisely and thus is not at any sort of risk when interacting with people she meets through the page.

“Granted, anybody can post, but I think the intentions are good in the fact that most of them will probably be Cobbers … I can trust most Cobbers,” she said. “I guess I was a little more relaxed about meeting him because … there were a lot of emails exchanged and I felt that I could trust him.”

Another student, a female sophomore who also wishes to remain anonymous, has used the page to find a “friend with benefits.”

“I wanted to live the college life and do something crazy,” she said. “I’ve posted on the site because I want some fun and to have an adventure. I want to live while I’m young.”

She feels that Cobber Mingle is an optimum forum for her to pursue this interest.

“I know that good friendship doesn’t always occur instantaneously, but it’s not easy to have intercourse with some random person; it just doesn’t work like that,” she said.

She alleged there was one specific instance when the outcome resulted in a threat from the man she connected with.

“He … asked for pictures without clothing. Without remembering internet safety stuff, I sent him one partially clothed,” she said. “An hour before I checked my email the next day, I realized what I did was bad.”

“After asking for a naked pic a few times, and I refused to send one, he finally said … he might post the (photo) to the confession pages. I honestly went to a bathroom, curled up on the floor and started thinking how screwed up my life would be. I was afraid. I was tricked,” she said.

Ultimately, this student attributes Cobber Mingle to making her encounters possible.

“Cobber Mingle helped me to get my words out there without having people who know who I am judging me,” she said. “There’s no other medium I would use to post the things that I have. I trust Facebook and the Cobber community better than I would on some random website.”

Negative experiences on anonymous pages are not confined to Concordia. Last month, according to USA Today on Oct. 3, controversy circulated about the Boston College Confessions Facebook page when a post articulated how one individual sexually assaulted three women.

Someone later came out to authorities and claimed responsibility for the post but said it was a hoax, resulting in an investigation by the college.

Such an incident begs the question of what could be posted — or, in the case of the sophomore female student, what could happen beyond the posts — at Concordia.

Megan Orcholski, professor of communication studies and women’s studies and assistant director of forensics, wonders what could happen if the posts go even further than they already have.

“What happens when they say I murdered somebody? What happens when they say I’ve been embezzling money and I work at the bookstore,” Orcholski said. “I think it’s interesting because I think we’re bought into the illusion that these confessions are safe right now.”

 The moderators of Confessions of a Cobber and Cobbers Confess suggest safeguards are in place to prevent dangerous posts from showing up on the pages.

“I do feel that it is important … to use discretion when deciding which submissions to post and which to ignore,” said the moderator of Confessions of a Cobber.

“We understand that we walk a fine line between what is considered funny or relatable and what is inappropriate and sometimes illegal,” Roger said. “If the legality of this page ever comes truly into question it is because someone failed to moderate it correctly.”

The co-moderator of Cobber Mingle, however, views selecting posts a bit differently.

“There’s been one or two times where we’ve had to think about what was posted on there and whether it’d be acceptable, but we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just easier to post everything because then you won’t receive a backlash,” the co-moderator said. “It’s better to just post something and understand that it’s not you saying that; it’s what somebody else is saying.”

Orcholski questions where responsibility lies for the posts.

“(On) what level do we believe that (the pages are a concern), and if we do believe it, do we as the public or as the moderator have the responsibility to do anything about that?”

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