UPDATED: Anonymous social media posts spark concern

James Vaughn

UPDATE: The “USI Confessionss” Facebook page and the “USI Confessions” Twitter page “will be officially closed” Oct. 11.

“Over the past few months this page has been shut down three times, has been wrote [sic] about in the newspaper, and has been part of a lot of controversy,” the page administrator said in a post early Friday morning. “Due to all of these things I have felt an increasingly amount pressure [sic] to shut this page down.”

The page administrator said they are receiving money to shut down the pages, but refused to comment on where the money is coming from and how much it is.

“I can tell you that me and this person [sic] have been in talks for about two weeks and we finally agreed on a number that we both felt good about,” the page administrator said in a Facebook message. “It is more about the money, plus I am getting tired of having to deal with people getting upset about it.” 

The page administrator said they created the page because Ball State had one, but it didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to. 

“When I made this page I decided that there wouldn’t be any moderation because I feel like people need freedom to say what they want,” the page administrator said. “Was some of the stuff posted on here total shit? Yeah, but just because I posted it doesn’t mean I agree with it. Could I have moderated it more so people didn’t get offended? Yeah, but then I feel like it wouldn’t be the same. Do I feel sorry if it offended people? Not really because they didn’t have to read it.” 

When a suicide threat was posted to the “USI Confessions” Facebook page, a student who saw the post contacted the Office of Public Safety, which worked with the Dean of Students Office (DOSO) in an attempt to identify the individual.

When Dean of Students Angela Batista reached out to the page administrator, she was told there was no way to determine who wrote the post because all of the entries are anonymous through a Google server.

So she went a step farther.

“We looked to see who responded to that post,” Batista said. “We were able to reach out and say, ‘Do you know who this is?’”

The page, which was originally created in April, sparked concern when DOSO and the Office of Public Safety were never able to identify the individual.

“It is very unfortunate because, even though they may not know who it is, the page administrator could post things periodically reminding people about boundaries,” Batista said. “I think it’s unfortunate that they don’t see the importance of doing that.”

DOSO has had repeated meetings with three students who are concerned about the content of the pages in the past two weeks. Three faculty members have also come forward to discuss what should be done about it.

“Some students that have come in said they feel targeted by the page, particularly around issues of gender and race,” Batista said.

Junior theatre major Samuel Wentzel said he was targeted in several posts about three weeks ago.

“It was frustrating because I didn’t know who was talking about me and it was in a public forum,” Wentzel said.

A couple of his friends contacted Facebook in an attempt to shut the page down when they saw posts questioning Wentzel’s sexual preference, he said.

“As annoying and hurtful as the posts can be, I still find it interesting,” Wentzel said. “I followed it pretty much from when it started, but I never actually ‘liked’ the page because of how much hate was being spread. It’s OK to share your opinion without being so graphic about it.”

Instead, he responded by posting a status to his personal Facebook page.

“This is ridiculous. If I have anything to ‘confess’ I’ll do it in my own way with people I trust, in my own time. I’ve never felt the need to share every detail about my personal life to everyone and I’m not going to start now,” Wentzel said in the status. “There’s a person behind that name your [sic] typing. Please do not forget that. That is all.”

Someone shared his status on the “USI Confessions” page and then anonymously apologized.

Other students and faculty members have written to Facebook in the past few weeks about the page. They received notification emails when it was removed Sept. 10. It resurfaced Sept. 19, under the title “USI Confessionss,” toting an extra “s” at the end.

Facebook has not responded to an email from a Shield reporter questioning its procedures for removing a page.

Assistant Professor of Psychology Amie McKibban said cyber-bullying, or any type of bullying, can have profound effects on someone.

“When it happens over and over and over, an individual starts to internalize those negative comments,” McKibban said. “If it’s something society already has a negative take on, the negative effects are doubled.”

She said long-term, the effects may seem minor, but they’re not.

The effects can lead to slight depression, social anxiety – maybe even isolation, which studies have shown is one of the best predictors for early death.

The current Facebook page had 62 “likes” Friday morning. The Twitter equivalent, which was created after Facebook removed the page from its site, boasted 23 followers. Batista said the original “USI Confessions” page nabbed more than 600 “likes.”

“My concern is that the people who are posting are finding a sense of comfort by being behind a keyboard,” she said. “At this point, we’re just monitoring it. At a certain point, if an issue comes up, we may reach out to Facebook officially. But it can’t be, ‘We’re a university, there’s this page, and you need to shut it down.’”

Batista said she respects students’ right to free speech, but there have been concerns about the page using USI’s name. Internet searches could lead outsiders to the pages. Others, such as “USI Secret Admirers,” have also caused concern.

She said students should be aware that while the pages are not USI owned, there are university policies regarding students targeting other students, she said.

If someone posts a student’s name and it’s not deleted, it can have a long-term impact, considering some potential employers conduct searches, Batista said.

“It’s about more than the minute,” she said. “I just hope people will think twice before posting because we’re meeting with a lot of people who are very upset about it, and we can’t really do anything. We are all a part of this community and being silent is a choice. If you feel like this is disrespectful and you don’t say anything, then you’re contributing to that.”

Batista said she hopes those who feel like the pages are offensive or inappropriate will continue to communicate with the page administrator, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

If a student is experiencing problems or feels targeted, they can reach out to the Counseling Center, DOSO or the Office of Public Safety.

“If you wouldn’t say it in person,” Batista said. “Don’t post it.”