FIT Confessions and the Anonymity of the Internet
By Kate Broderick, Global Strategic Communication ‘13
If you are a college student, especially a student pursing a degree in communication—where the study of social media is of particular interest—chances are you’re tapped into Facebook. On March 10, a new Facebook group popped into existence. The power of social media being what it is, by the time I arrived at school the next morning, everybody was talking about it: FIT Confessions.
What is FIT Confessions? A Facebook group where FIT students can anonymously submit confessions. In a single day, over 600 confessions had been posted, ranging from the non-so-scandalous (“#918: I love pencils) to the obscene. I will be the first to admit it—I was hooked immediately. I’ve heard the school administration isn’t entirely thrilled about the website, but respects the students’ First Amendment right to free speech; despite a brief interlude when it appeared the creators were going to shut down, FIT Confessions remains up and running. What are our fellow FIT students saying? Here are just a few “confessions” out of the thousand+ that have been posted:
– #862: I find it hilarious to put my hands on other people’s faces unexpectedly because no one ever fights back. They all just let it happen.
– #847: I actually like Campus Security. Those guys have been nice and really helpful to me since I’ve been here.
– #828: I went skinny dipping in the new school pool late at night. Before it was opened. Off the high dive.
– #814: One time I got drunk at a party and my ride had already left. I ended up riding in the trunk of some girl’s car. When they got to campus they left me in the trunk.
– #775: Riding the trolley is probably the best way to kill an hour before class. #Trollying.
– #733: To whoever gave bronchitis to the entire school, now is a good time to confess. I hate you.
– # 570: I accidentally locked myself out of a girls CV apartment at 4 in the morning very drunk and only in my boxers. Trying to get back in I pounded on the door but realized I was at the wrong apartment when a guy opened it up. I apologized and went to the correct door but no one would answer. I awkwardly went back to the guy and he let me sleep on his couch. I can never thank him enough for the generosity he showed to a random drunken stranger.
– #376: I sit in class and think of names I would call my band if I had one and how I could use a play on words with the name to make awesome t-shirts
There is a darker side to FIT Confessions, however. I didn’t realize, for example, that students can be so racist judging by some of the posts. I agree entirely with confession #1043: “Most of these posts make me lose a little more faith in humanity every time I read them. 25% of them are hilarious though, hence why I keep reading them.” Other confessions voice similar concerns, such as confession #800: “This is supposed to be a confessions page, not a ‘Let’s bash people anonymously behind a computer screen because we’re too chicken to say it to their face page.’”
As a communication student, I’ve studied social media and its impacts in classes such as New Media and Strategic Communication and Mass Communication and Society. One issue we, as a society, are grappling with is the anonymous element of the internet. Cyberbullying is rampant, and the recent trial in Ohio brings to light how social media is a catalyst for bringing out the best and worst in people.
My true confession: I don’t watch the news, (something a student pursuing a degree in communication should probably never admit to, but I find it disheartening and get depressed). This is why I had no idea what my friend was referring to when she said, “I can’t believe the rape trial that is going on in Ohio right now.” Apparently, a 16-year old high school student inebriated to the point of unconsciousness was raped by two of the star football players from a neighboring school. The case was ignored by the police until it came to light that the alleged rapists had uploaded pictures of the event to Instagram and Facebook. Jerks commented that the girl was “dead” and “so raped!!!”
At this point, the anonymity of the internet resurfaced in another form: the “Hacktivist” group Anonymous took charge and created an online campaign that pressured the police to bring charges against the football players. The case is going to trial this weekend. Social media was used by the rapists to celebrate their attack, while Anonymous used the same social media channels to bring the accused to justice. This highlights the duality of the internet, and our responsibilities as internet users.
Because of the virtual nature of the internet, and the anonymity we have, somehow the internet feels less real, as if our actions don’t impact other people. As if the internet isn’t a real place. This is a myth—how many hours do went spend tapped into the internet? I spend more time on the internet at work, on my phone, in class, etc., than I physically spend inside my own home. Too often we think, “how does all of this exposure to the internet or Facebook impact me?” What we should be thinking is, “how do we impact the internet?” We get to shape what kind of neighborhood the internet is.
So, as I scroll through the posts on FIT Confessions, giggling at some of them, cringing at the blatantly mean and petty, I can’t help but wish FIT students would recognize the power behind the anonymity of the internet. We can use that to champion causes that need protecting, not to cowardly attack one another. Shouldn’t we be spending our time and our words on causes that actually mean something? Free Speech Day taught us that our words have power—social media gives us a virtually unlimited audience. So why don’t we do something with this power?