Published: Friday, April 5, 2013
Updated: Friday, April 5, 2013 13:04
There is a difference between confession and cowardice.
At times, anonymity promotes honesty and openness. But in the case of the Facebook page Georgetown Confessions and similar forums at other colleges, it has allowed for a shameful abuse of anonymous speech, producing hate and vitriol.
Since last fall’s debut of Georgetown Compliments, a Facebook account that posts anonymous praise of students submitted by other users, at least six more spinoffs have cropped up: Georgetown Insults, Georgetown Love Declarations, Georgetown Confessions, Georgetown Crushes, Georgetown Remorses and Hoya Hook Ups.
In its four months of existence, Compliments has remained an innocuous addition to campus culture. The same, however, cannot be said for Georgetown Confessions. Unlike its benign counterparts, Confessions is a quintessential example of the danger of anonymous forums.
There are cases in which the anonymity has merit, especially when it creates a safe space for discussion of sensitive issues. But a page like Confessions achieves the opposite by removing students’ accountability for their statements, rendering the discussion potentially offensive and counterproductive.
Issues that students may feel tense discussing openly, such as affirmative action, have been brought up on Confessions. One post called affirmative action an “abomination.” Another asserts that there should be a “White People Alliance at Georgetown.” Issues of race and pluralism certainly merit discussion — indeed, on-campus groups like Georgetown Leaders for Unity and Equity and events like A Different Dialogue are designed to promote these conversations and demonstrate differing opinions. However, these groups and events operate under the guideline that students be thoughtful and respectful. An online platform where users can hide behind their computer screens removes this sense of accountability.
Besides revealing a lack of desire for genuine dialogue among students, a page like Georgetown Confessions can encourage a hateful and negative campus atmosphere, leading to unanticipated consequences. Negative posting online can not only offend the individuals it targets but also undermine the mutual trust on which the entire Georgetown community — and college culture in general — is founded. If students fear that their beliefs, activities or even identities will be criticized anonymously in front of the entire student body online, that may lead to resentment.
There is certainly something to be said for the value of freedom of speech. But when we only utilize free speech to perpetuate our own prejudices or attack members of our community without any accountability, we tarnish the value of that freedom. Social networks like Facebook assure that unproductive, anonymous venting will always be available, but we cannot forget that using platforms like Confessions to vilify our peers escalates online banter to offensive conduct.