This past Thursday during our second “Mapping Media to the Common Core” Montana cohort class meeting via videoconference, I learned about the trend of “student confession pages” among high school as well as college/university students in some places. I was first alerted to this thanks to a discussion in the ePUB ebook chapter I wrote (on “Interactive Writing“) that we’re reading as well as discussing together in our “blended” class in the free iPad app, “SubText.”

SubText Discussion Example

“Confession Pages” are generally Facebook pages created to share anonymous “confessions” solicited via polls on sites like SurveyMonkey in which students share details of sexual encounters, perhaps both alleged and real. They are also used to spread gossip and slander. The challenges posed by “Confession Pages” are a global phenomenon, not limited to a single geographic area or region. This situation highlights the global nature of the Internet and our common needs to address ethics as well as digital citizenship with students and even adults. While these “student confession pages” are receiving increased attention, interactive websites online (including local newspaper websites as well as Facebook) are replete with gossip and slander posted by adults out of formal school settings. These are issues we face as a society, not JUST in high schools and colleges.

According to the February 20, 2013, article on HawaiiNewsNow, “Hawaii schools struggle to stop Facebook confession pages:”

Facebook confession pages promise to reveal dirty little secrets. Iolani School found out about the embarrassing websites about a week ago. School officials said Facebook rejected their request to delete an offensive page. “The seriousness of the harmful comments, the deceitfulness, and the possible bullying on the Facebook pages is really what concerns us,” said Iolani’s director of communications, Cathy Lee Chong. Several private schools have been targeted. Hawaii News Now also found confession pages for at least 20 public high schools in Hawaii. The Department of Education is in touch with Honolulu police, but the scandalous stories don’t fit a typical cybercrime case.

Students are concerned and paying attention to whether or not their own names are showing up on confession websites. According to the February 28, 2013, article “Students confess, flirt incognito” on the Loyola Maroon from New Orleans, Louisiana:

Loyno Confessions, Loyno Crushes and Loyno Compliments, three unrelated pages created by different people in the Loyola community, all sprung up around Feb. 21. The three pages use anonymous surveys hosted by a different website for students to submit their thoughts and have them reposted to the Facebook page. “I think people are mostly anxious to read more. I’ve even got confessions about people waiting to see if their names appear on the page,” the creator of Loyno Confessions said. The inspiration for the pages comes from other schools that have started similar social experiments.

Loyno Confessions

Confession Pages are not just springing up on U.S. campuses. Students, educators and parents in other countries are facing the challenges and issues posed by them as well thanks to the “digital demonstration effect” offered by the World-Wide Web. According to the February 5, 2013, Yahoo News article, “Singapore students spill secrets in campus ‘confession’ pages:”

Singapore university students are hustling to certain Facebook pages to anonymously reveal their best kept secrets, ranging from mushy love confessions to saucy sexual details. Not limited to a pastor’s ears, their admissions are open to all to view, share and comment, Facebook-style. Following a trend led by students in Western schools, unsanctioned Facebook “confession” pages have risen for Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University. Since its launch three days ago, the “NTU Confessions” page has garnered 3,500 likes and more than a thousand “confessions”, NUS’ attracted almost 6,000 likes within 10 days and SMU’s drew more than 1,000 in one. Confessions are submitted anonymously through a third-party survey site, and the page administrator, who has access to the content, can then post them. Anonymity encourages the students to bare their souls these online confessionals.

The previously cited Loyola Maroon article also cites two well known collegiate gossip websites which were shut down for different reasons, “JuicyCampus” and “College ACB” or “College Anonymous Confession Board.” These examples show how “confessional websites” are not new, and some have faced legal actions which have led to closures.

The English WikiPedia entry for JuicyCampus explains:

JuicyCampus described itself as an enabler of “online anonymous free speech on college campuses.” Through strict privacy policies, it allowed users to post messages and comments without having to worry about identification. Readers were able to vote on which posts they found “juiciest,” or most provocative. As of March 16, 2008 the site contained rumors for 59 colleges and universities.[1] By October 2008, JuicyCampus had expanded to over 500 college campuses. Much of its content was related to fraternities and sororities.

The English WikiPedia entry for College ACB explains:

College ACB described itself as “designed to give students a place to vent, rant, and talk to college peers in an environment free from social constraints and about subjects that might otherwise be taboo” and claims to promote “deep and thoughtful discussion” (Frank, Peter).[1] Recently it was bought by blipdar.com and no longer exists in its previous form. In October 2011, Blipdar was taken offline.

“Confessional websites like these highlight how words can be used for good or for evil. According to the previously cited HawaiiNewsNow article:

While Iolani considers potential legal action, student government leaders are talking to their peers about responsible internet use. The school also has a Facebook compliments page featuring hundreds of positive posts

The same website tools can be used to amplify positive as well as negative ideas, issues, and topics in our schools and communities.

As educators and parents, we need to be aware of the rise of these “confession pages” on Facebook and elsewhere, and discuss them with our students as well as family members. Here are some ideas about some possible “takeaways” or “lessons learned” we can discuss among peers and others when it comes to “online confessionals.”

  1. We need to talk REGULARLY with students about the important responsibility of using their words (in digital as well as face-to-face contexts) for GOOD and NOT FOR EVIL. This isn’t something which can be adequately addressed once per year in eRate-required “Internet safety” discussions.
  2. Classroom teachers need monitored as well as moderated online spaces (both “walled gardens” like Edmodo / My Big Campus and open web environments like KidBlog sites) which can serve as SANDBOXES for digital interaction with and among students.
  3. We need to address ethics and character development in our classrooms as well as homes and churches. This is a great “case study” example to discuss and wrestle with. It raises freedom of speech issues, censorship issues, propriety, libel and slander, gossip, and many other issues WORTH DISCUSSING and debating together.
  4. Every one of our schools needs to INTENTIONALLY seek to amplify the “good stories” of learning and student/teacher interaction taking place on a regular basis with social media tools. Our “Learning Showcase” website for Yukon Public Schools as well as our Yukon Public Schools Storychasers YouTube Channel are examples of projects I’ve been working on the past year with this goal. The Lakeview Elementary Storychasers Club website is too.

What else would you add to this list?

How have you discussed “confession pages” with your own students and children?

What is your school doing to address the issues raised by these uses of social media?

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