A decidedly antisocial trend in social media recently made its debut in Missoula.
So-called “confession” pages on Facebook are catching on like wildfire, primarily spread by teens and young adults who haven’t yet learned the value of privacy, modesty or common decency. On the contrary, these pages are places where immature minds congregate to brag about dangerous and illegal behaviors centering on drug use, alcohol abuse and irresponsible sex.
This type of use of social media is irresponsible, damaging and needs to be stopped. Unfortunately, given the rising popularity of these pages and the apparent reticence on the part of Facebook to police them, it’s up to parents to pay attention to what their kids are doing online – and report these abusive pages.
This isn’t new advice. Educators and law enforcement officers have been sounding the alarm to parent for years about the dangers of allowing teens unrestricted, unmonitored access to the Internet. Most children – even older children – simply do not have the experience or the impulse control to protect themselves online. They may say things and do things that will later haunt them with regret.
Parents are thus advised to strictly monitor their kids’ use of social media and talk to them about the dangers of sharing personal information. The former is easier said than done in an era where Internet access is virtually ubiquitous; the latter can also be difficult for parents to stay on top of when the potential dangers are constantly evolving.
The “confession” trend on Facebook is a good example of a newly emerging danger. Many parents who are familiar with Facebook consider the giant global social networking service a relatively safe haven because it requires that users provide a name; its community standards ban threats of violence, graphic content and other abusive practices; and it allows users to report abusive pages and posts.
Confession pages, however, violate all of these standards. The creators of these pages are never named, and they solicit and post “confessions” anonymously. They also target a particular group, usually a school – there is a confessions page for the University of Montana, and a confessions page for Sentinel High School was created on Feb. 8. A new “Big Sky Confessions” page was started on Feb. 12 for Big Sky High School.
The “Sentinel confessions” page, for one, had nearly 1,800 “likes” at last count. It already has dozens of posts, the majority of which are absolutely vile. These posts are allowed despite the page’s self-description, which states: “This is a page dedicated to letting teenagers express themselves and we do not condone bullying of any kind. We will not post anything with a persons Name or anything that would offend or hurt someone.”
The Sentinel confessions page also explains that, “We’re not responsible for the things people post and we have no way of figuring out who posted them. Anything with names will not be posted. And we DO NOT condone bullying.”
Yet names are indeed included, as any comments on these posts are entered using an individual’s Facebook account, and therefore includes the commenter’s name. And many of the posts are indeed offensive and hurtful. These are too lurid to repeat in a family newspaper, but as an idea, here are two of the tamer “confessions” recently posted on the page: “Thank god for cheating! D for deploma (sic)!” and “I’m so excited for a fresh batch of freshman girls.” A comment by a named user under the second post cheers this idea: “Pound on the fresh meat,” it says.
Now, how would reading something like that make you feel if you were a female freshman at Sentinel? Or the parent of a freshman student? Unfortunately, there’s nothing school personnel or school district administrators can do to put a stop to this online activity; unless the posts are being made using school equipment or on school time, they have no way of finding out who is behind these anonymous comments.
Other communities have seen how this abusive use of social media can quickly get out of hand. A recent uproar in Boise, Idaho was sparked when Borah High School students used a “Lion Confessions” page on Facebook to allege a sexual relationship between a teacher and a student. Another anonymous post “confessed” to bringing a gun to school. Both posts made allegations of illegal behaviors, and the police were contacted accordingly.
What’s more, a school employee reported these violations of its posted standards to Facebook. Ultimately, Facebook is the only entity with the authority to shut these pages down. So far, the social media service has refused to do so, despite complaints. Perhaps if enough people report these pages, it will finally take steps to stop them - such as requiring that page creators provide a name.
To report a page as abusive, go to the page you want to report on Facebook, click the dropdown menu under the page’s cover and select “report page.”
And in the meantime, parents must take the initiative to understand what their kids are looking at online, and explain to them what responsible use of social media looks like – and why “confession” pages aren’t appropriate.
EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen