Here’s a confession

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March 12, 2013

12:03 AM

There’s something about the internet that makes it easier for people to reveal just about anything. “William & Mary Confessions” is the latest craze that exploits our desire to share secrets anonymously and to soak them up. The posts range from lighthearted and funny, to deeply emotional and heartfelt, to flat-out disturbing. Although we acknowledge the potential benefits of “William & Mary Confessions,” we believe it plays a negative role in many students’ lives.

There is value in revealing part of yourself to others, especially if you discover people with similar feelings and problems.  This is an important way humans make connections, and it has the potential to make even the loneliest of us a little less so. Another advantage of people making confessions publicly through a venue such as “William & Mary Confessions” is that it increases readers’ thankfulness for their own lives. When students post their fears and dire problems anonymously, it provides others with a sense of perspective on their personal stories.

These benefits, however, are idealized and inconsistent with how “William & Mary Confessions” actually operates. Comments on heartfelt posts are often insensitive — even cruel. The posts themselves can be bitter, insulting and in some cases fake. With many of the posts, mean and disgusting comments come to the forefront. It is disheartening to see people post their sincere feelings and problems, which require the kind of thoughtful sensitivity best left to friends or professionals, rather than strangers. Some posters may even be dealing with mental or emotional instability, and they could be hurt by comments in unintended (or callously intended) ways.

Rare but glaring posts have featured people who confess to being victims or perpetrators of sexual assault and other abuse. This can provide victims with a sense of empowerment and allow others to open up about their personal experiences and express support. However, it also enables those who have seriously hurt others to confess their guilt and escape punishment due to the page’s anonymity. Readers are left feeling helpless and culpable as they can neither help the victim nor expose the guilty. The result is reminiscent of watching a train wreck — no matter how horrific it is, you can’t look away, and you can’t do anything to stop it.

We’d like to encourage friends to be more open with one another. Avoid putting people with real psychological or emotional trauma in a position where they would feel the need to post anonymously and expose their innermost thoughts to strangers. To people who feel they have no one in their life whom they can trust with these confessions, the Counseling Center provides a number of services to students in need — all for free. And to those who comment on anonymous posts, remember that unstable or isolated students can interpret your responses in ways you may not recognize. Be sensitive.

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