As Seen in the Hallways: Dawson Confessions Confesses
Last November, the Dawson Confessions Instagram account started poppin’ off. Through it, we were introduced to a plethora of secrets, gossip, and revelations. Feeding off the thrill of anonymity exclusive to the internet, confession pages allow students of a particular academic establishment to confess their embarrassing moments, sins, and shameful secrets freely, without accountability. The account’s popularity proves the strength of the natural morbid curiosity surrounding gossip, secrets, and taboo topics. I’ve been thinking about the ethics of such a platform, so to sate my curiosity on the matter, I interviewed the Dawson Confessions account manager.
What made you want to start your account?
It started off as a joke entirely. The idea was to do something like Gossip Girl and then it evolved from there.
A big part of the mystique surrounding your account is your anonymity. Are you scared of being "caught", or your identity being found out?
Being caught is not a big concern. I think it’s easier to confess to a page or unknown entity instead of to a specific student. We didn't tell anyone, it's just me. I've been keeping it secret since it's important to the account, but not that much to me.
You gained 3,500 followers in under five months, surpassing every other Dawson-related account. To what do you attribute this success?
The success was insane and [unexpected]; It's exactly what [comes to mind] when you think of school, gossip, sharing secrets to your friends on a bigger scale. The posts help students disconnect from school and connect with their peers.
What kind of precautions did you take to avoid getting into trouble with the administration? How do you filter out confessions?
From the start, I established boundaries to what we would post or not, we filter out posts that do not fit within the mindset of the account. If they attack anyone, or talk about a sensitive topic, [the confession won’t be posted]. If a post is problematic, it is removed instantly.
There has been quite a bit of debate and controversy surrounding these confession accounts. Do you think those judgements are justified?
That judgment is completely justified. These types of accounts [are prone to partake in or be associated with] cyberbullying, which is why we have strict rules in place.
Following this interview, I continued my investigation by interviewing two anonymous Dawson students, whom we’ll call Andrew and Leo. The consensus was that DC, though entertaining at first, has become irrelevant. The hype that rapidly accumulated in the first weeks of posting died down just as quickly. It appears most of the posts are rooted in falsehood. Students estimated that 70 to 90% of the “confessions” are rooted in falsehood. “How many people can possibly be hooking up on the eighth floor?” said Andrew.
Accountability is a topic that arose repeatedly. “Anonymity is exciting to people,” said Andrew. “[DC provides a platform] for unfiltered opinions that aren’t necessarily profound or true. [The absence of accountability] allows bullying and sexual harassment to fly under the radar”.
Leo, on the other hand, says that “there shouldn’t be shame in talking about things that you’re not necessarily proud of, not everyone has those safe places, but there are limits”.
Andrew recalled a confession related to “Atwater Metro Lady”, referring to a well-known character amongst Dawson students, a homeless woman who busks near the metro entry. “The confession was essentially humiliating her, saying ‘she has a phone and a car, why is she asking for money?’” When people commented, calling out DC for the elitist nature of the confession, the owner replied that the post did not represent their point of view. “YouTube, for example, censors certain types of content, and whether we agree with it or not, the company holds a responsibility. They’re providing a platform for people to [vocalize questionable and damaging opinions]. I think it’s an excuse for them to be openly hateful without taking responsibility.” When I told Andrew about DC’s method of “filtering out” problematic posts, he replied “I guess that only applies to people who aren’t homeless.”
The harm of unchecked “free speech” surpasses the DC account. Words have power and when an individual gets a hateful confession off their chest, “there’s a benefit for that one person, but many disadvantages for the people who are affected by [such a post],” said Leo. “If DC didn’t curate their posts and [someone spread homophobic ideas], a person who’s waiting to come out of the closet will read that comment and be pushed right back in.”
I do want to acknowledge an Instagram story that DC posted Wednesday April 6th.
Essentially, DC demonstrated their concern about confessions they’ve received regarding mental health issues. They said that they cannot post these, but encourage followers to “check in on your friends and loved ones, or reach out for professional help. A simple ‘hi’ or ‘how are you’ is more than enough and may do more than you think.” DC appears to have a good understanding of the possible dangers of their platform.
I doubt that this is the last time a platform for anonymous confessions will arise. Therefore, it’s important to have a discussion surrounding the ethics of this before the absence of accountability, probability of cyberbullying, and problematic unchecked “free speech” lead to greater risks in the future. Be kind, Dawson.