The UNBF and STU Confessions and Compliments Facebook page has provided an unintended platform for the question of how anonymity is contributing to bullying on the internet.
“I started the page because our universities didn’t have one of our own. Other universities had a confession and compliments such as UNBSJ and UPEI, so I decided that the two universities in our region could have a nice confessions page,” said Matt Kelly, admin of the page and a computer science student at UNB.
Some sample posts of what has been argued as bullying or harassment on the page are “Fat girls ain’t beautiful, just saying” and “I seem to have a problem meeting girls that are not damaged.”
“I don’t know of any bullying on this page. It’s being used for political discussions which I did not expect. But as of right now it is mostly confessions and compliments towards others,” Kelly said.
Kelly said that he reads posts and decides whether it is right or wrong to publish them.
“People are entitled to their opinions. The whole purpose of this page was to let people express themselves without personally being condemned. No one is forced to view the page’s content if they do not like it,” he said.
He also said that there is a silver lining to the negativity taking place on the page.
“With every negative comment posted there is positive support in even greater numbers every time,” Kelly said.
Jeffrey Carleton, director of communications at STU, said the issue lies in the fact that someone is making the comment in the first place.
“I think [the page] has a negative impact. [The administrators] have created the page and may have to take responsibility for what’s being posted,” said Carleton.
Students are starting to notice the page’s harmfulness too. Earlier this month a student complained to the presidents of both UNB and STU about some of the posts on the page.
“The individual was concerned that the site was spreading false rumors, that people were being targeted and that it was something that should not be tolerated on our campus,” said Carleton.
“We felt that some of the content violated our student code of conduct and our student harassment and discrimination policy.”
The harassment and discrimination policy covers multiple types of harassment including personal and psychological harassment and sexual harassment. Comments that affect one’s dignity, integrity or create a harmful environment can be considered psychological harassment according to the policy.
Both institutions took this complaint very seriously and are seeking legal advice on how to proceed.
“The presidents asked me to look into what options we have via where the law stands on these sites. We’re going to take a look at this with external experts on the issue and see what our options are,” said Carleton.
Ayla Poitras, a second-year psychology student at STU and active member of the page, has been personally harassed by name on more than one occasion in anonymous posts.
The first post read, “Ayla Poitras just uses this page for masturbation and self validation.”
“I was alienated for my activity on the page. It’s disgusting that someone needed to go to an anonymous forum and type in those words,” said Poitras.
Poitras said she definitely thinks the page is slanted towards bullying and harassment rather than confessions and compliments.
“It’s full of malice and it leaves a gross taste in your mouth to think that you go to school with people like that. It makes me wonder about the people that I’m sitting next to in class,” Poitras said.
Multiple anonymous users have used “freedom of speech” as their defence for what they post.
Sara Rothman, senior director of academic success at UNB, sees both the good and the bad of the page.
“I have concerns about the page, but I also see the potential for it to foster a positive campus community. I am heartened by the posts that are there solely to boost the spirits of others,” Rothman said.
Some of the more positive posts read “Brynn, how I would like to get to know you better. You are beautiful!” and “Don’t forget to say thanks to your mum and dad once in a while. Sometimes we begin to forget all the things they have done for us to get us where we are today.”
Rothman believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to be wary about what is being posted.
“I strongly encourage the admin to ensure the space is a safe and respectful place for all UNB and STU community members and to use good judgment in deciding whether or not to post or refuse submissions. Users have a responsibility too and should think carefully before submitting a post,” said Rothman.