To be honest, when I first found out OWU Confessions existed, I groaned a little bit to myself.
I’ve seen these pages sprout up from other universities, and I’ve found them to be places where vitriol and judgement are condoned and human decency is sometimes abandoned altogether. I don’t want such a place to exist at Ohio Wesleyan because we deserve better—no one on this campus should be subjected to anonymous hatred and rumor.
But so far, the posts have been fairly innocuous. The carbon copy, “OWU Confessions Absolutely Anonymous,” has hosted some submissions leaning further toward obscene, but I haven’t seen anything that’s had the potential to do substantial harm to anyone. In the past couple days, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, the pages have become guilty pleasures of mine.
Some of them, however, have been hard to read. The potential fallout that could result if the submitter’s identity were known is unsettling to me, so the anonymity is good. But it shocks me what some people have done to and think about others, and that they’re so cavalier about admitting it.
Then again, it’s made me realize the therapeutic power of letting go of something a person has kept secret for a long time. To confess must be inherently cathartic—I can only imagine how much of a weight must have been lifted off the shoulders of those who submitted some of the posts.
Several of them are genuine and positive, too, honest admissions of struggle or stories of hope. The fact that OWU Confessions has produced a raw human bulletin board as well as an internet cesspool is remarkable.
What aren’t genuine, though, are the comments. The hard thing about an online forum for things as intimate as these confessions is that everything is submitted for the judgment of the internet’s harshest critics. People are quick to judge each other’s secrets, and ridiculing them is a sure way to kick a confessor while they’re down.
Like the posts, though, not all comments have been this way. Some are supportive, giving the submitter solidarity or sympathy. Some even invite non-anonymous conversation with them if they need someone to talk to.
Even more often, I see commenters calling out problematic confessions—like those of people who chronically cheat on their significant other, or think the “friend zone” exists.
As University Chaplain Jon Powers pointed out to me, there’s a difference between criticism and criticism with substance. The latter is the only kind of criticism that should ever show up on OWU Confessions. Someone’s honest admission of human struggle should not be laughed at; but if you’ve got the bravado to publicly (albeit anonymously) issue your opinion as objective fact or dig up an embarrassing moment from someone’s past, I don’t feel it’s unfair to receive a little criticism.
Ultimately, it comes down to two entities—the moderators of the Confessions pages and their readers.
The former have a responsibility to ensure the submissions they choose to post won’t do anyone any harm. While some of them are entertaining, no confession should involve any other person by name. Neither the submitter, nor the moderator, nor anyone else can possibly know how someone will react to having something intimate about themselves published online by someone else. The anonymous compliments are surely rather innocuous (at least as far as I’ve known), but the harm outweighs the good for anything otherwise.
The latter—us—have a responsibility, too. We need to uphold the power of OWU Confessions as a cathartic forum rather than support the its potential danger. This means being supportive of people who submit secrets that might have been difficult to admit, and substantially criticizing those who attack or demean others. Our campus should be a safe space, not a harmful one. This extends to Facebook, too.
OWU Confessions can be a good thing for a lot of people, but we shouldn’t allow it to turn into a bad thing for anyone.