Editor’s note: Due to the possible punitive action SF State could take against the administrator of the “SFSU Confessions” page were his/her identity revealed, we have decided to keep the administrator’s identity anonymous. We will hereto refer to them as “The Admin,” and use a “he” pronoun, though the Admin’s gender is not necessarily male.
Everyone has at least one: a crush, a silent grudge or a secret so scintillating they’d dare not share it with even their closest friends.
Now students can anonymously share their hidden thoughts with the entire SF State community through a Facebook page that has exploded in popularity called “SFSU Confessions.”
SFSU Confessions gained over 3,000 “likes” in the past few weeks, but its success is sparking debates in the campus dorms over free speech, privacy, stalking and the power of anonymity.
The page is simple enough to access. Jump on Facebook, enter “SFSU Confessions” into the search field, and you’ll be brought to a page with over 2,000 anonymous student thoughts posted for the world to see, like this one:
“Confession #1711: I’m gay and so is one of my roommates. Another one of my roommates is not gay, however he acts more flamboyant than the two of us combined.”
The confessions are submitted via a website named SurveyMonkey, where they can be given without showing your Facebook information. The administrator of the page, “The Admin,” then chooses the best submissions and posts them to the page with a number in front.
These pages have sprung up at colleges around the country, and even all around the Bay Area. The confessions themselves range from the tame, like crushes on classmates, to the explicit.
Many students agree that the page isn’t just fun, it’s damned addictive.
“I go on daily to get the real dish on SFSU,” said Siobhan Ross, a 21-year-old apparel and design major at SF State. The page helps bring her together with her fellow students, she said. “We’re more alike than we think.”
Jesse Vicario, a 23-year-old pre-nursing major, had similar reasons for going to the page.
“I really go on not because it’s hilarious, but I would like to understand what the many SFSU students think,” he said.
And the numbers show that many SF State students are just as interested in each other — besides the over 3,000 “likes” on Facebook, the page has reached over 65,000 viewers, the site’s administrator said. The sheer number of submissions though can be overwhelming to the Admin.
“I’m a full-time student, this isn’t my job, I do it for fun,” the Admin said in an interview via Skype. “It used to be fun, it’s unfortunately getting to be like a labor sum now. Now I worry about if I get enough postings each day.”
He was inspired to make the page after seeing the film “The Social Network,” and more importantly, inspired by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
“I will admit, the day I saw (the Social Network) my life changed,” the Admin said. “He pissed off the school, came forward and changed the world. It started in his dorm room and became worldwide.”
The Admin wants to have the same impact on SF State and beyond, he said.
But every dream has its challenges, and the Admin’s humble confessions page is sparking an education campaign from the school, alleging the page puts some students in the crosshairs of stalkers.
Marygrace Delucchi is the area coordinator for Mary Park and Mary Ward halls. She oversees the school’s 20 resident advisors, or RA’s. It was one of those RA’s that brought the confessions page to her attention — but not over a funny post, but rather, a dangerous one.
“Individuals have felt uncomfortable and been recognized on campus (from the posts),” Delucchi said. When one of the many students reading the page recognizes someone described in the posts, they use a Facebook tag to link the comment to their profile page.
It may seem like an innocent way to link someone with a crush to a potential new friend, she said, but some students were getting over 20 to 30 friend requests from people they didn’t know on Facebook, Delucchi said.
“Their address and name are available for anyone on the internet who wants to find them,” she said. “This makes me feel kinda gross, as a person who looks out for the safety of the residents.”
Notably, anyone can join SFSU Confessions from anywhere, the group is not restricted to students.
To warn students of some of the pitfalls of posting to the confessions page, Delucchi and her RA’s are starting an Internet privacy awareness campaign. In the next few weeks, fake “confessions” will start popping up on bulletin boards and hallways around the student dorms.
One of the posts reads “Confession #1: I’m scared that my personal information can be posted publicly without my permission,” in a nod to the stalking issues. But they also address other problems, like mean-spirited posts: “Confession #15: I left the burn book to the Mean Girls.”
For his part, the Admin feels like he does an adequate job protecting people’s identities.
“I don’t think the RA’s have anything to complain about,” he said. “I take a very, very fine comb and take (personally identifying) stuff out. But (there are) people who want to hear about that stuff, who want to hear about those dorms, commuters like me and you who want to live vicariously through these people in the dorms.”
Part of the allure of the confessions page is definitely the voyeuristic thrill, but the anonymity of the page can lead to scathing posts that are a turnoff, students said.
“When someone posts about killing themselves, that’s kind of a scary thing, and there’s really nothing anybody can do about it because it’s all anonymous,” Max Freeland, a freshman cinema major said.
More than a dozen people have submitted suicidal posts to the SFSU Confessions page, the Admin said. The decision to put them on the page was a tough one.
“That was something I definitely had to think about when this was starting,” he said. “It could be people screwing with you, but then there’s real cases. Some are fully typed out paragraphs. I’m like, ‘this sounds a little convincing.’”
Delucchi is equally frightened by the suicidal postings on the confessions page.
“You know for me if I hear a student (talk about suicide) to my face, there are protocols,” she said. “But for someone to just post it anonymously online, theres so little support the school can give them.”
Justin Lardinois, a 19-year-old computer science major at UC Santa Cruz, runs a confessions page for UCSC and is dealing with that problem himself.
“(Suicidal posts) are an ongoing issue, and I’m still working on a solution,” he said. Lardinois recently posted two potential solutions to suicidal posts on his page, and asked for feedback.
His first solution was to flat out ignore suicide posts, but his second solution revealed something surprising.
“I could associate an IP address with every submission and report suicide threats directly to the authorities. I’m hesitant to do this because it would infringe on the privacy of everyone that submits,” Lardinois wrote on his UCSC Confessions page.
Lardinois’ post reveals something that may not be commonly known by posters to SFSU Confessions — the administrator can see the IP addresses of those who post, potentially leading law enforcement to those who post on the page, despite the promise of anonymity.
The Admin of SFSU Confessions now has a disclaimer on his page: “Do not confess your suicidal thoughts on the survey. If you are in need of help, please seek professional advice. SF State offers many resources to help matters like these.”
Suicidal thoughts aren’t the only danger on the page one student said.
“There have been certain posts that I believe should be turned over to authorities,” Catherine Gastelum, an 18-year-old civil engineering major said. “In one confession, a girl believes that she may have been raped, and yet no one is able to help her, or even find her assaulter.”
Despite the issues, Delucchi doesn’t want to see the SFSU Confessions page taken down.
“I feel like that sends the wrong sort of message,” she said. “The message I want to send is ‘think about it.’ Think before you post anonymous confessions.”
And for his part, the Admin is hoping to improve his page as best he can, because he said, it’s the pilot for a much bigger project.
“I’m planning on a social network that’s in the works,” he said. It’s targeted towards college students but he was unwilling to go into more detail about the project. “It’s still on the drawing board, but I think it can be done.”
Taking his cue from Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook, he has big dreams for his future.
“Some people say that you’re just a kid, and to shut up,” he said. “But what is life if you don’t have a dream?”