By Breanne Reilly
When OWU Compliments popped up in my news feed in December 2012, I liked it immediately. The Facebook forum was created last semester so Bishops could show anonymous appreciation toward OWU students, organizations and staff.
According to the creators, who are all students, the forum was inspired by a suggestion from OWU memes and the Queens University Compliments page. It is all about giving Bishops the “warm-and-fuzzies” through positive posts that thank, compliment or encourage.
The page is set up so participants can simply send the administrators a private message. The creators repost the message without revealing the poster’s name. For extra anonymity, the page offers a Google form users can fill out so that even the creators do not know the source of the message.
Many of the posts refer to specific students or groups. Students who follow the page have a habit of tagging the people the post is addressed to so that they can receive his or her compliment on their news feed. These followers have taken on a shared responsibility to make sure the warm message gets back to the addressee. This is great example of how our community operates.
The creators encourage those who are mentioned in posts to compliment students who have not been mentioned on the page. The students can then pay it forward and keep a stream of positive posts up.
Although posts that mention specific students allow Compliments users to “share the love,” I prefer the comments that are left open to interpretation. A couple of weeks ago, somebody posted, “To the brunette I shared a laugh with in Corns today, you are a fox and I like your shoes.”
My initial reaction to this comment: Moi? Somebody thinks I’m funny! Somebody thinks I’m fashionable! I was elated.
My second reaction to this comment: Wait. This post could refer to any person with brown hair who has a class in Corns.
This is what I like about the anonymity the site offers. Some of the posts that Bishops leave are not specific so they can be taken as a compliment by several students. Imagine what 500 brunettes could accomplish with amped up confidence.
I also like the anonymity because it makes the compliment more believable. When we are complimented by our friends, we don’t always believe them. They tell us how great we are all the time. A stranger can be a more reliable source for a genuine compliment.
The anonymity of the forum also makes users feel free to share their thoughts. It’s easier to talk to someone when we’re not in front of them. Face-to-face communication makes us susceptible to others’ reactions. Behind our computer screens and anonymous identities we do not as vulnerable. We can thank our helpers without risking the Hallmark moment or admit a crush without getting all red in the face.
This tendency to open up online is called the online disinhibition effect. Harmless symptoms of this effect include a less guarded, more affectionate attitude while logged on. We are less anxious about the consequences of cyberspace actions because they cannot be directly linked to us.
The positive statements on OWU Compliments prove that this effect is not a bad thing. But communicating through social media behind a shield of anonymity can have negative consequences. Little of our communication takes place through written or spoken words. Approximately 93 percent of our communication is based on what we perceive through body language. Humans need interactive, authentic communication to properly connect.
And this is the only problem I have with an anonymous online forum.
The point of OWU Compliments is just that–to compliment—and not necessarily to connect. Arguably, the page has brought the community closer together as a whole. But since its creation, there have been hundreds of positive posts from Bishops. I could be making an assumption, but that’s hundreds of compliments and thank you’s that were not delivered through a personal means of communication.
Although we do positive deeds through posting on the page, we don’t help ourselves through faceless appreciation. We are avoiding face-to-face communication and allowing anonymous posters on an online forum to communicate for us.
My recommendation is this: if you want to compliment or thank someone, say it to them in person. Then go and post it on the OWU Compliments page so you can share your appreciation with the entire community.