Anonymity: The Price of Rankings and Confession Pages
Reading Time: 4 minutes
As soon as I found out I got into Stuyvesant, the first tip I got from upperclassmen was to download Facebook. I was told to use it for information about classes, but more importantly, it was so I could read Stuyvesant’s official anonymous confessions page.
Confessions pages are popular because students can express their thoughts and receive advice in a seemingly “safe” space—if people don’t know who someone is, it is difficult to judge them. But more often than not, the audience seems to enjoy these often exciting and scandalous stories instead of empathizing with the confessor. In fact, Stuyvesant Confessions is listed as a “comedian” page. While there are many joke confessions, this is also insensitive to those who are legitimately reaching out for help. In some ways, the anonymity of these confessions does not help: instead, they create a barrier that makes the stories feel less real, and the page is no longer a serious space.
For Stuyvesant students, the Instagram page @stuyvesantsophcrushesondaside has gained widespread attention for sinister reasons. Sophomores (the page is public but was created for sophomores) can anonymously submit opinions, thoughts, and, especially, secretly admit to crushes through a Google Form attached to the account’s description. The account posted a Google Form response ranking the “bottom 10” girls in the grade on Saturday, April 29.
The preface to the list was:
“we are gonna be brutally honest and help out the boys out if anyone wants we’ll do
some for the girls
but pro tip for the boys do not go after these ugly [EXPLETIVE] they actually chopped as [EXPLETIVE] (not in order but bottom 10 in rankings)
Students in the comment section called out the account for posting the submission (“bro that’s so messed up bruh take this shi down” and “why would you post this,” among other comments), and the post was taken down after a couple of hours. A student ranked on the list emphasized, “The comments on the post kind of treated it as a joke, but I think in these cases people should just not interact and report the account, but we are high school students so I understand that it was probably entertaining.” She is right: if the comments had seriously pushed back and explained why the act of writing the list was so “misogynistic and disgusting,” perhaps more students would have taken the issue seriously.
Soon after, the entire page was wiped and the account reposted form responses. The account also posted an “apology” on their story, claiming that its owner had misread the submission and thought that it was instead a ranking of the 10 most attractive girls in the grade.
Despite the post’s deletion, it is still indicative of the larger issue of cyberbullying. Among the common effects of cyberbullying are feelings of self-worthlessness and increasingly low self-esteem. Not only are the victims of cyberbullying isolated, but there is also no authority figure to intervene unless the incident is reported. Rankings concerning how “dateable” or attractive people are are also dehumanizing and sexist. These lists objectify people, quantify lives based on societal beauty standards, and disregard victims’ emotions.
These rankings can affect how people perceive themselves. The same student explained, “Initially, [...] I felt like it was lowkey my fault because I felt like I hadn’t been conscious of what I looked like in school [...] It definitely hurt the confidence I had built up after I had been super insecure throughout elementary and middle school.” She said, “[I] realized that I shouldn’t allow that to happen at all because I live for myself and I shouldn’t care about what others have to think of me,” but many others may not. The student spent a lot of time figuring out how she would present herself at school the coming Monday, and research already shows that girls are more likely to compare themselves to one another. Research conducted by Facebook and Instagram shows that the platforms “make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls” and that “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.” Considering that social media romanticizes everyday life and there is an increasing pressure to live an elegant life, especially adhering to trends, these rankings are just adding to the stresses many on the list are already probably facing.
This list is not a singular instance; even before social media, high school students created popularity rankings. With social media, it is even easier to spread such hateful ideas and use real people as entertainment. This disregards everyone’s right to privacy—anonymous lists can expose anyone. And while the information may not necessarily be true, rumors can still spread very quickly. Mental health illnesses can be exacerbated by these rankings, and cyberbullying in general: 59 percent of students have been cyberbullied in some manner, and research shows that 41 percent—almost half of those cyberbullied—have increased social anxiety. Thirty-seven percent of students draw a direct line between cyberbullying and their depression.
Anonymous pages do have a purpose: struggling individuals can get advice without fear of being judged. But because there is such a varied response in the comment sections of the posts, these posts are largely unhelpful. The pages need more regulations: they should never mention real names or identifiable information about people. As the student on the list puts it, “The person who runs the account should not have posted hateful content, and I think that’s where it’s bad.” If students are going to establish anonymous accounts, the account administrators have a responsibility to regulate what content is posted. She spoke of a feeling of relief once the post was taken down. The only thing the account can do is post explanations for why this sort of behavior is bad, especially if negative content is on the page, because the anonymous nature of the process prevents any sort of accountability for the perpetrators. Thus, confession pages need professional administration, especially if the page intends to give and receive advice. This would allow the page to actually have benefits such as removing the stigma around confession topics, giving confessors often much-needed validation, and increasing confessors’ confidence.