Annie Bartholomew/Sun Star Reporter
April 23, 2013
Editor’s note: this story contains explicit language expressed by users of the UAF Confessions Facebook Page.
The most recent incarnation of the UAF Confessions page instructs users to “Tell us all your deepest, darkest UAF secrets, or whatever else you want the world to know,” on its Google Form submission page. The Facebook community page with 575 “likes” hosts anonymously submitted “confessions” reposted by the page administrator whose identity remains unknown. The page follows a similar format to the UAF Compliments page where students and community members have posted anonymous compliments to each other.
Though some posts serve as an open discussion for Facebook users to offer advice, discuss relationships and commiserate about college experiences, other posts could have been perceived as harmful by Facebook users.
Female Student Singled Out
On Tuesday Apr. 16, the UAF Confessions page administrator posted a “confession” that crossed the line for some of its audience. The post read, “Like if you’ve fucked Liz Wallace. Comment if it was a 3 some!” The post immediately received criticism from users surprised that the page administrator would allow the sexually explicit content targeted at UAF communications student and graduate teaching assistant Liz Wallace.
“This seems pretty close to some form of libel or slander…” wrote Fairbanks resident Zachery Howdeshell.
Geology student Ephy Wheeler also commented on the post, and later called the page a forum for “anonymous hate speech,” citing previous posts containing derogatory remarks about Alaska Native students.
The post was eventually taken down but not before a screen shot was taken at 1:11 a.m. on April 17.
Wallace did not know about the “confession” until a student sent her a picture of the post. “I hold no ill will to anyone that has created this page or message, but it did make me stop think: Here I am, a graduate student at UAF with so much to feel good about in my life, and an anonymous person calls me out on a UAF public forum for my sexuality,” Wallace said in reflection. “Mostly, I think it is interesting that calling out a woman for her sexual activities is still the way that men (and women) put other women down.”
Other students were more critical of the activity. “I just think the page is for cowards,” Psychology student Jacob Tigner said following the post’s removal. “The guy is trying to be Hunter Moore with the post he made and obviously that doesn’t work,” Tigner said, regarding the page administrator.
A History of Controversial Language
This is not the first “confessions” page
for UAF. Last week a Facebook page bearing the same name appeared and was taken down after the presumed author allegedly received contact from the provost’s office. The purpose of the page and reasoning for removal is documented in a “manifesto” apparently written by the student. In the “manifesto,” which is linked to on the UAF Confessions page, the author takes fault for posting the “confession” which caused the previous page to be shut down. According to the manifesto, it read, “I am disgusted by the native population in Fairbanks.” The author described post as achieving the discussion they hoped for, “The post revealed tensions that are not completely racist in nature and that, again, I do not think should be ignored.”
Though some users were upset with the content of the Tuesday night’s post, it wasn’t the first time UAF Confessions took on topics that could be considered offensive. Past posts explored potentially harmful themes including violence against women, assumptions about the LGBT community and sexualized statements about female students.
Frequent page commenter, Justice student Joshua Mattacchione doesn’t believe any of the posts are offensive but did think the Tuesday night post should have been removed. “I think the post was far too personal of an attack to be posted,” Mattacchione wrote in a Facebook message. “It honestly doesn’t even fit the criteria of a confession,” he wrote in a Facebook message. “It is asked the audience to confess, which isn’t the point of the posts.”
The Price of Anonymity and Censorship
Some may wonder if any of the submissions are vetted and according to the page administrator, some are.
“A few submissions are thrown out without ever being posted, but others make it through and ‘start fires,’” said the page creator, who has been identified as a male UAF student in two separate Facebook messages. “Initially it was feared by fans that censoring posts would result in a ‘
watered down ‘ version of the original,” he said. “These will normally be left alone unless it’s specifically requested that they be removed, in which case they’re deleted as soon as possible.”
When asked why he could not reveal his identity, the administrator said the site could not function without anonymity on both ends. “The anonymous format allows the community to offer their input on things which would normally be kept very private – or worse, never expressed at all,” he said.
Mattacchione agrees, “The admin needs to remain anonymous for the page to work.”
But when names are named, Wallace believes that the anonymity of the page is called into question. “I think that the idea of an anonymous page is an interesting and beneficial concept, however the moment my name appeared on that page, it was no longer anonymous,” she said. “I am thankful that I live in the United States of America where I do not have to fear that my father and brothers will be honor killing me later tonight due to this public post.”
The page administrator who believes the net effect of the site has been positive, does not expect the page to be shut down for any reason. ”The possibility of pressure from University officials has been discussed regarding certain offensive content and the fact that the page has the University’s name attached, but the level of concern about any sort of official regulation is currently very low,” he said.
“The only thing I’d really want UAF officials to know is that I’m extremely open to their input. If there’s something about it they don’t like, I’d appreciate it if they’d contact me to discuss the matter,” said the page creator can be reached directly through the UAF Confessions Facebook page messages.
Through the experience Wallace remains unfazed by the anonymous dig directed at her. “I would be offended if someone commented that I was not a good instructor, that my thesis defense was not strong, that I am not a good friend, or that I am lacking intellectually,” Wallace said. ”It’s 2013 and the most hurtful comment that this anonymous person could come up with was the fact that I have sex? This does not offend me.”