Thanks to social media, bullying has become more insidious than ever. “Confessions” platforms—independently run pages on social media sites and mobile apps where students can anonymously post about their campus communities—are rampant on campuses across the country. The emphasis on anonymous contributions makes the personal public. The forums feature racism, sexism and homophobia, perpetuating intolerance and rape culture. They are a growing problem.
Illini Crushes and Confessions, a Facebook page associated with the University of Illinois, has a submissions page ostensibly for anonymous posts about crushes, but has instead become a space for fat-shaming, racism and rape-y comments. Students create memes about, say, how Donald Sterling’s life has been unfairly ruined by his “side chick” girlfriend, or write posts picking apart female bodies.
YikYak, an anonymous “confessions” application based on location, is another new way college students can cyberbully each other. It currently operates pages at such schools as Furman University, Auburn University, Boston College and UNC-Chapel Hill, following in the footsteps of Collegiateacb, an anonymous forum where students, particularly those in Greek communities, post about the size of other students’ butts and breasts and where they brag about hookups.
At first, YikYak doesn’t sound like trouble; its webpage says it acts “like a local bulletin board for your area by showing the most recent posts from other users around you.” iPhone users in an area can post anonymous thoughts to a page in the app and interact with other posts in the same location. According to YikYak’s website, participants can “create quality content and receive upvotes from other members of your community.”
But this app isn’t a community events page. The comments are crude and intolerant, objectifying students. Check out these remarks:
“Laugh every time a black frat thinks they’re actually relevant.”
“Think my roommate’s gay. Gonna put my balls in his mouth when he’s asleep to verify.”
“It would be great if Internationals didn’t assume I spoke their language.”
“I am white and white is right.”
“NBA overreacted. Shut the fuck up and stop acting like you’d fuck your girl again after she’s been with a black dude.”
Sound like quality content? I was even targeted after I criticized online campus confessionals in my school’s daily newspaper:
No student is ever asking to be written about on a social media website by dressing a certain way or participating in hookup culture. We could point the finger of blame at fraternity culture, a mentality that often encourages the othering and dehumanization of “outsiders” in campus communities.
With “likes,” “retweets” and “upvotes,” Confessions pages perpetuate and trivialize the seriousness of sexual assault and racism. As online communities grow with technological advancement, the bullying will only persist. Sites like YikYak smack of the slambooks that students used to terrorize and defame each other pre-Internet, and reminds one that bullying will always exist whether it’s by the pen or the keyboard.
In order to shut these confessions platforms down, we need to address those who let them continue. The pages weren’t created with the instructions “be mean to each other,” but the students submitting the content push these pages toward hatred. Though university administrators have no association with the pages, we should expect them to strongly condemn the sites. Exposing the problem will force students and universities to recognize how this online behavior promotes an offline intolerance.