Stories of students' drunken St. Patrick's Day escapades, crushes on classmates and personal struggles are chronicled on a Facebook "confessions" page for University of Colorado students.
Popular with college students because of their anonymous nature, Facebook confession pages also are starting to show up linked to high schools. While many students love them, adults often are less than thrilled with the trend.
Generally, the pages get around Facebook rules that require commenters' names by using online survey tools. Someone who wants to post a confession can type it into a blank box, then the confession goes to the administrator of the page without any information identifying the poster.
The administrators also are anonymous, though people who "like" or comment on posts must do so using their Facebook accounts with their names.
Boulder High's "confessions" Facebook page started in February and is almost all anonymous notes about crushes. One example: "You are literally the most perfect person. I have a huge crush on you ... and you're super duper hot."
Boulder's Fairview High School also has a private "confessions" Facebook page that started in February.
Lafayette's Centaurus High flipped the concept, starting a page in February for anonymous compliments instead of confessions -- a trend that's also been mirrored at other schools. The Centaurus page has the approval of the school principal and is run by students in the school's National Honor Society.
Centaurus sophomore Maddy Love is the main administrator, posting the anonymous compliments.
"I thought it could really bring the Centaurus community together," Love said.
Senior Meghan Doherty said giving an anonymous option increases participation, though she noted that students increasingly are posting directly on the page.
"Being anonymous cuts out the awkwardness," she said.
Added senior Katy Brown, "We're very big on trying to build our school morale. This is a way of making us feel more like the family we are."
CU confessions: A place for support?
While the local high school pages require students to directly message the administrator -- who then posts the confession anonymously -- CU's page uses surveymonkey.com to keep the poster's identity secret even from the administrator.
Although anonymous online "confession" sites aren't new -- two students, who have since graduated, started BuffSecret.com in 2008 -- using Facebook as the platform has recently gained popularity.
The administrator of the CU Facebook page, which is up to almost 8,000 "likes," is a sophomore who asked that her name not be used to maintain her anonymity.
She said she started the site after transferring to CU from the University of Arizona. When she realized her new university didn't have a confessions site, she said, she thought, "Why not go ahead and start one?"
She said having a completely anonymous site works best.
"If it wasn't totally anonymous, the chances that people would be willing to submit stuff would be low," she said. "There's a lot that people are willing to say under the cover of anonymity."
To keep things civil, she said, she screens confessions and won't post those that are racist, homophobic or "way out there." The site does include sexually explicit posts and posts about drinking and drug use.
"I'm not looking to offend people; the purpose is just to entertain people," she said.
More important, she said, the site is a place for students to find support.
"There's a lot of people who submit things about problems they're going through," she said. "They need a friend or someone to talk to. There are so many people who will reach out to them and say, 'Here's my number' or 'Message me.'"
Examples include a student who posted about coming out as gay to his family, another who talked about having an eating disorder and a third who posted about depression.
CU junior Brenden Kugle said that, while he wouldn't mind seeing fewer "dumb" confessions, he frequently reads and comments because the page provides support and hope.
"This page has shown the readers that there are people facing the same exact battles, and it is extremely comforting to know that you are not alone," he said. "The fact is, whether big or small, every single one of us has or is currently facing some kind of hardship, and we don't always have someone or know who to talk to."
He said posting his own confession helped relieve some of the pressure he was feeling. The best outcome, he said, would be if the page encourages more people to open up about their problems in real life.
The main issue for college officials -- including at CU -- is branding, not content.
"What we're concerned about is that it not appear to users that it's an official university site or account," said CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard.
He said other concerns include that someone in distress is posting anonymously instead of accessing real resources. Otherwise, he said, what's posted isn't of interest to CU officials, though he noted that "posting non-stop about partying doesn't do much to advance the value of your degree."
Sites worry high school officials
Concerns about inappropriate content are greater at the high school level.
In other states, police and school officials asked Facebook to shut down high school confession pages that got out of hand. Concerns include that students are using the pages to bully classmates or post offensive material.
Though Boulder High's "confession" pages seem innocuous, Boulder County intervention specialist Jenny Hecht said the trend is worrisome.
Hecht, who works at Fairview, said the increasing dependence of young people on strangers for validation and advice is troubling. So is the idea that students might only post online about serious problems instead of seeking real help.
"At Fairview, I'm working on prevention efforts to break the code of silence that adolescents hold for each other," she said. "This feels like it's perpetuating that. This feels very uncontained and unsafe to me in some ways."
A secondary concern, she said, is students engaging is risky behaviors may use the comments on these pages to help justify drinking or using drugs because it seems as though everyone is doing those things.
"There are a lot of behaviors that are contagious," she said.
CU confessions Facebook page posts:
"Tonight I came out to my dad. It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done."
"Our prized lawn flamingo went missing from our yard last night. Whoever stole it: if you could return it that'd be awesome. We won't ask any questions. Good karma comes to those who respect lawn ornaments."
"Overheard some kids from my high school talking the other night about how I was that girl who gained the 'Freshman 15' and looked gross now. ... I was severely anorexic in high school and am FINALLY starting to feel confident about my body again.... be careful what you say because you never know what someone's going through."
"Since St. Patty's day five people have walked up to me on campus that I don't recognize and asked if I ended up alright Sunday." ___
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