For the lonely, anonymity

by Trelawny Vermont-Davis / Beacon Staff • March 26, 2014

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Blurred identities
Blurred identities

Anonymity is undeniably the zeitgeist of Emerson’s current social media activity. In the last couple of years, a variety of confession-focused pages have become popular, most notably Emerson Confessional and Emerson Compliments. These Facebook pages, for better or for worse, offer students a platform to express admiration, respect, and often feelings of lust for other students with a public audience—sans the burden or intimacy of revealing their own identity. Both pages have proven successful; Emerson Confessional boasts over 1,500 likes, often filling our newsfeeds with posts ranging from witty romantic haikus, to bizarre feelings of self-deprecation.

Hidden identities are not limited to confession based websites; they also exist on other platforms. Last week, I wrote a feature pertaining to Greek life at Emerson. A few hours after the story was published online, I received a text from a friend asking if I had read the comments online: I hadn’t, and part of me wishes I never had. Though most remarks were primarily concerned with the feature itself, some were simply about me.

With online identity ambiguity comes trepidation, and Emerson Confessional is certainly not exempt. Anonymity, coupled with the promise of a wide audience, manifests itself in many forms: multi-paragraph monologues on feelings of desire, guilt-driven confessions on cheating on a significant other, or objections to campus sexual assault. But the chance at invisibility, across many Emerson platforms, has also given rise to other forms of public script: posts pertaining to lack of self-worth, sexual insecurity, or episodes of humiliation. These heavier messages are displayed right under posts that make a mockery of the anonymous confession page. Posts like “I am really drunk and high right now. to everyone who doesn’t get f**ked up, too bad 4 u.”

But despite the commenters who make a mockery of Emerson’s confession projects, these pages, at their core, exist to achieve a fundamentally positive thing. Although it is easy to write Emerson Confessional off as a joke, it is clear that many people who post feelings of solitude are looking for condolence. And through the comments, they often get just that. But despite the well-intentioned and compassionate commentators, there is a danger in this sort of interaction. Students’ attempts to console the depressed through endearing comments is not a substitute for real counseling, just as posting an anonymous confession to Emerson Confessional cannot replace speaking with a qualified counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist.   

Overall, though, these pages seek a constructive goal. Anonymous posts offer a way to articulate campus apprehension and personal opinion, while allowing other students the assurance of knowing they are not alone in these feelings. The deeper side of Emerson Confessional is undoubtedly significant, in that it calls attention to the Emerson students silently struggling with depression and perhaps serves as a means for further action to improve student well-being.

But it is important to remember while anonymity may provide a level of comfort for us to discuss issues of depression, sexual assault, class, and race, it is limited to a small audience of subscribers and confined by the very nature of Facebook commenting. These topics, as arduous as they may be, need to be discussed openly to begin to improve campus culture.