Confessional websites, ubiquitous and anonymous

Last modified: Monday, January 27, 2014
True Confessions, Raw Confessions, Whisper and Simply Confess are among the many places people can go online and say whatever they like anonymously.

And many local high schools and colleges have their own pages, Tumblrs, SubReddits or Twitter accounts dedicated to displaying people’s deepest secrets, sincere questions and soul-baring refrains alongside who’s hot, who’s not lists.

These sites have often kicked up controversy and trouble. On Monday, for example, Amherst Regional High School was closed due to an anonymous post on the Facebook page Amherst Regional High School Confessions. The post at issue was from a person who claimed he carried a weapon to school on most days.

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Bedlam isn’t what most confessional creators say they had in mind when launching their sites. In the “About” section, the creator of the ARHS Confessions site lays out the page’s rules: “Bullying or hateful comments will not be posted. Anything that could jeopardize a faculty member’s career will be ignored. Post anything you want about your high school career. Here is your opportunity to post anything you’ve seen, heard, or done, anonymously.” The page administrator declined to be interviewed for this article.

Posts on confessional websites run the gamut from cathartic, to questioning, to unburdening, to cruel.

Here is a verbatim sample of what people have posted on ARHS Confession in the last several days:

“I find twerking wildly unattractive.”

“Ms. Marr is one of the nicest teachers”

“What face wash is best at preventing/getting rid of acne?”

“I’m starting to hate all my friends... partially because i think they’re starting to hate me too.”

“i [had sex with] someone who just got out of their relationship, and keep messaging their ex about it on ask.fm. I can’t help it, it’s a great power trip.”

“I honestly have no desire to live. I never really have, either. I’m too much of a coward to do anything about it Every time I sleep I beg not to wake up”

The anonymous confession trend started around 2005 when a group of Oberlin College students began creating confessionals for various campuses. Amherst and Mount Holyoke colleges were among the first to get their own confessionals.

Confessional sites protect poster anonymity by sending messages via an application or other third-party platform such as Google Docs or Confess, Confession Page Manager. The page manager often doesn’t know who is posting to the site. Through the third-party, identifying information is stripped from a post then submitted to the desired website. This is an especially necessary step for Facebook confessional sites because the social media hub doesn’t allow anonymous commenting.

On Facebook, people may respond to posts, but without the cover of anonymity.

Legal challenges have been considered against confessional websites, but charges are rarely filed. The most highly publicized challenge was probably the one levied at Juicy Campus, an early provider of anonymous gossip posting. Juicy Campus specialized in providing a forum for scandalous attacks among fraternities and sororities and topic threads such as “The biggest slut on campus” or “Fattest girl.” In 2008, New Jersey’s attorney general began an investigation into whether Juicy Campus violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act through “unconscionable” commercial practices and misrepresentations to users. Juicy Campus closed in 2009 and no charges were filed.