JHU Confessions taken down following controversial posts

By EMILY HERMAN | February 27, 2014

JHU Confessions, a Facebook page featuring anonymous, student-submitted confessions, was temporarily deactivated Monday in order to fix the posting system that turned the page into a hub for cyberbullying and controversial posts about race and sexual orientation.

The page’s administrators, who all claim to be Hopkins undergraduates and have insisted upon remaining anonymous, hope to restore the page by next week after they set up a more thorough post filtering system.

“The new system will have each of the posts read and moderated before being posted,” the administrators wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “We started this page for fun, to create a forum for JHU students to discuss and post stories anonymously, and hope that it will continue to serve this purpose.”

Before deactivating the page, they responded to several emails from The News-Letter between Thursday and Sunday regarding their system and recent controversial posts.

While saying that it was a priority to find and delete offensive posts, they admitted that doing so had become too difficult recently as the page volume had increased. The administrators wrote that they had received about 150 posts and averaged about 3,000 page visits per day last week.

The number of offensive submissions dramatically increased after the administrators overhauled their posting system. Originally, submissions were sent through Google Docs and individually approved; however, at the start of the spring semester, the page adopted a new system that posted all submissions in 30-minute bursts before the administrators had a chance to review them.

“We are not able to read every post and filter them if they are inappropriate,” the administrators wrote. “[We have] relied heavily on being notified or contacted via [Facebook] message when a post is inappropriate and is requested to be taken down by either the persons involved or concerned followers of the page.”

Several recent posts called students out by name and included disparaging, belligerent and/or sexual remarks. Although the page did not have a search bar, visitors could scroll down to view any old posts that were not deleted by the administrators.

For example, a post that said “[Name redacted] is a huge slut” was posted on Feb. 15 and remained on the JHU Confessions for over a week.

Many recent posts have included controversial statements about race, especially concerning the selection of hip-hop artist J. Cole as this year’s Spring Fair concert headliner. Those posts sparked extensive debate in their corresponding comment threads.

Another example of a racially charged post that received much attention was: “Why do black girls join white sororities?” Comment responses for the Feb. 20 post included “Because we live in the 21st century” and “Why do people like you feel the need to ask this? I think that’s a more interesting question.”

The page also received a number of posts that dealt with sexual orientation, including a Feb. 21 post asking: “Why is being gay celebrated as ‘diversity?’… If the liberal scientific community would stop celebrating it and treat it instead as a disorder, then research and funding would go into finding a way to cure it.” Comment responses included “How about we just stop hating people for who they are” and “This is a joke, right?”

“We know [offensive posts are] one of the shortcomings of the auto-posting system,” the administrators wrote.

When such posts did slip through the cracks, they usually generated backlash from page followers.

“When I see posts that are misogynistic, downright creepy or just have flaws in what they’re trying to say, I usually try to go ahead and point those out,” sophomore Kevin Wells said.

Additionally, students who frequently commented on posts were often called out through anonymous posts. Freshman Bianca Galasso, one of the page’s most frequent commenters, was the subject of many posts, both positive and negative.

“The negative backlash [against me] is honestly kind of funny,” Galasso said. “When people attack me, I just take it with a grain of salt and have fun with it. What am I going to do, get mad at someone who is not brave enough to confront me in person?”

Although Galasso said she wasn’t upset by the negative posts about her, she did feel that mean-spirited posts were distracting readers from the positive aspects of the page.

“Saying something mean about someone can make or break them,” Galasso said. “People can be very critical behind the keyboard.”

Although many recent posts have spawned lengthy discussions in the comment threads and follow-up anonymous confessions, frequent page commenter Maxwell Collard said he thought many recent posts have been submitted by people just looking to stir up the pot.

“[The automatic posting system] gives play to a lot of trolling,” Collard, a junior, said. “Even though it’s valuable to maintain an open forum of debate, it is not valuable to blatantly attack someone else. There shouldn’t be a sequence of five posts one after the other about one individual, berating them.”

Although he said the cyberbullying was disheartening to read, Collard defended students’ right to get their confession posted on the page.

“I am really against censorship, especially by an anonymous, unilateral body which none of us have any say about,” Collard said. “There’s a problem that happens when people have things they’d like to say, but feel that they can’t because of social pressure. It’s good that there’s an outlet where people are able to create some kind of public discussion about various kinds of things, though some of them might be ridiculous or things that people shouldn’t have said in the first place.”

Former frequent JHU Confessions contributor Jordan Britton claimed that although derogatory posts would stay on the page for several days, the administrators were quick to censor submissions that criticized the page itself.

“I brought that up to them and they blocked me from commenting for a day,” Britton, a sophomore, said. “I [only got back my] commenting ability when I made a confession about it.”

JHU Confessions also received a number of submissions from people threatening self-harm. Galasso, Collard and many other frequent commenters posted advice and tried to encourage people to go to the counseling center and peer-listening service A Place To Talk (APTT).

“The important thing is that they are reaching out in some capacity,” Collard said. “There is a community of people who actually care, and who will say ‘I have been there.’”

Galasso also said one of the main reasons why she liked contributing to JHU Confessions is because she felt like she was making a difference in someone’s life.

“When I was going through things in high school, I didn’t have anyone there saying ‘It’s going to be okay,’” Galasso said. “People contact me almost on a daily basis [to] say thanks for being so brave and trying to help people. It’s fostered an environment of compassion and empathy openly online.”

Although the page had been largely dominated by negative posts prior to being suspended, there were still a large number of serious confessions posted every day.

“If people calmed down with the ridiculous stuff, it [would] actually [be] a pretty interesting thing to read,” Galasso said.

Collard also noted that the page’s frequent commenters had formed their own community.

“It’s sucked up a good amount of my life recently, but on the whole it’s been positive for me personally and for the community,” Collard said. “It’s good to see the Hopkins community band together to do something, even if that thing is an Internet discussion.”

Prior to the page’s suspension, Galasso had expressed hope for the future of JHU Confessions.

“I would say that I would like to see it continue because it is entertaining and a lot of people have come out of the woodworks to help others,” Galasso said. “It’s a positive thing if used in the right way.”

Other students, like sophomore Noor Khalil, said they would not have been surprised before JHU Confessions was taken down if it had lost its popularity.

“I thought it was here to stay in the beginning, but it’s been getting too much cyberbullying and too many posts getting put on the page [in general],” Khalil said. “I think people are getting tired of it.”

The JHU Confessions Facebook page was not the first confessional page of its kind. Previously, Hopkins students posted anonymous confessions on an unrelated JHU Confessions website. Although the Hopkins sections of national college confession forum Collegiate ACB are still online, they have not seen significant activity in over a year.

On Reddit, a JHU Confessions subreddit was created on Feb. 20 but has not gained traction either. The administrator of the subreddit, a user under the name “jhuconfessions,” did not respond to a direct Reddit message from The News-Letter.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.