Courting controversy: Facebook's 'confession pages'
It remains to be seen whether this latest trend in social media is a boon or a bane, says Paloma Sharma. Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
On March 29 this year, Dr Mansing Pawar, Dean of Mumbai's Government Dental College, was forced to lodge an official complaint against a Facebook page titled 'GDC Mumbai Confessions' with the city police's Cyber Crime Cell.
The 'confessions' GDC students posted on this page contained derogatory remarks about female classmates and criticism of the teachers, the dean and the college -- and although the page had been taken down a day before the official complaint was filed, the police are still on a hunt for the perpetrators.
While this is an extreme case of misuse of the latest trend in social media, ie Facebook's 'confession pages', it is far from being the only one. The Mumbai police have sent notices to the administrators of five other confession pages, two of which are attributed to disgruntled students of Jai Hind College, and Holy Angels High School and Junior College. It is also believed that confession pages of prestigious Mumbai schools like Jamnabai Narsee have been nipped in the bud by internal forces.
Confessions posted on these pages may be a source of entertainment to those who write or read them, but they can cause serious embarrassment to the teachers or classmates they target. Almost always, these confessions are made from behind a veil of anonymity that empowers the writer to post practically anything and get away with it. Although the administrators of confession pages must censor obscene remarks and other explicit content, they often allow inappropriate material to be posted to make it more 'exciting'.
Facebook's confession pages went viral a few months ago and now the problem has spiralled out of control. With every other school, college or residential complex getting its own confession page, the situation has become highly volatile. A majority of young, regular Facebook users is active, on an average, on at least two confession pages -- that of their school/college, and the locality they reside in. Though not all confession pages are misused, the risk lingers and a single malicious comment from an unknown source can create social paranoia in an individual or affected minority.
Personal attacks seem to be the norm
The reasons behind these confessions differ from person to person. While some post confessions to share positive messages, jokes or interesting incidents, others may indulge in them to gain attention, achieve catharsis or just get back at someone who they feel has wronged them.
Girls and women become the easiest targets for cyber bullying and online harassment of this kind. A bitter break-up often results in the girl's phone number being shared publicly, someone writing obscene messages about her or even posting extremely private details about her life. Living in the kind of patriarchal society that we do, it is easy to malign a woman's reputation by spreading a few damaging rumours, even if they are baseless.
Aditya Chandran, 17-year-old student from Kendriya Vidyalaya INS Hamla in suburban Mumbai reveals how anonymous miscreants attempted to defame his classmate by posting offensive remarks about her on the school's confession page. The administrator, however, posted a note on April 1, 2013, stating that all objectionable comments and confessions had been deleted.
The origin of these confession pages is still a mystery, but it's easy to see why they've become so popular in such a short time. When it comes to youngsters, word-of-mouth matters the most. When gossip is whispered in school or college corridors, it doesn't take them long to add their own juicy snippets to such rumours -- and what better way to do so than share something on a Facebook page anonymously?
Personal attacks seem to be the norm on every irresponsible confession page, but they are not the only kind. IIT Madras' confession page once played host to strongly anti-Tamil sentiments, which caused several controversies within the institution and forced the administrator to remove them.
Name changed to protect privacy.
It's not necessary that a confession page has to take a turn for the worse
The negative attention that such confession pages have been receiving is a blow to users of pages that maintain appropriate decorum. Posting and reading about funny or interesting incidents can be entertaining, but the administrators play a large role in maintaining such positivity on the page. They must be responsible enough to discern the difference between what is amusing and what requires censure.
It's not necessary that a confession page has to take a turn for the worse. As long as users remember their personal responsibility towards others, a confession page can actually be a good thing. Rajiv Roark, a 23-year-old student of journalism from Indore, reveals how he uses Twitter Confessions -- a confession page on Facebook for the Twitter community -- to cheer up his friends when they are feeling low by posting positive confessions about them.
In a world where young adults are becoming increasingly detached from their families, a Facebook confession page can also play the role of a counsellor. Students have written posts about the academic pressures they face, as well as the inability to overcome their own social awkwardness. Some have shared things as personal as contemplating suicide and have received much-needed support from their peers.
So whether Facebook's confession pages are a boon, or a bane, or both, is still unknown. Some users post on them for light-hearted fun, others post for more sinister purposes. Ultimately, a confession page is a tool and like any other tool, what it creates depends on whose hands it is in. But if the disturbing trend of posting defamatory (and often untrue) confessions continues, relationships will deteriorate. So perhaps this is a good time to start looking for an offline solution to this virtual problem.