The pages contain postings that range from lewd sex fetishes and illegal activities to struggles with depression and suicide.
Students submit confessions anonymously to a mystery page administrator (whose identity is always kept secret), who then publishes it on the Facebook-based confession pages, mostly without any verification of the stories.
Many of the confessions are sex-related. Some goes: “I’m not sure if I have a sex addiction. Possibly.
“I masturbate a LOT and I’m bisexual. I think it’s really unhealthy but I don’t really know how to stop.”
Others use the pages to confess their personal struggles, including one that read: “I had an abortion before about six years ago and it still breaks my heart every single day.”
Another student confessed plans to commit suicide within 60 days, while another told of how he or she turned to marijuana to ease his/her depression.
The trend has grown globally, with news reports from countries like the United States, Australia, India, South Africa, Singapore and Saudi Arabia mentioning the confession pages over the past few months.
The pages (many of which have thousands of followers) are usually linked – without approval – to a school or university, which makes it easier for students to identify who the people confessing are.
One page administrator said the students were sometimes even tagged by friends in their confessions, thus revealing their identities.
The administrator for HUCP, a confession page for HELP University students, said the university’s authorities were aware of the page.
“I don’t think it’s unhealthy. It’s just a tool. It can be used for good or bad,” said the administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He added that he filtered all the confessions he received to avoid any offensive content.
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission chairman Datuk Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi urged caution when it comes to such pages.
According to Section 114A of the Evidence Act 2010, administrators can be held liable for any offensive or defamatory content published on their pages.
“In the case where anything posted from anywhere online that breaks the law of the land, the authorities have the right to intervene and call the people involved for investigation,” said Sharil.
> For the full story on school and university confession pages, turn to today’s R.AGE cover story.
By IAN YEE and DENIELLE LEONG
Baring it online
THE 19-year-old founder and administrator of the unofficial Catholic High School (CHS) confession page on Facebook received a shocking “confession” a couple weeks back – a student said he had “contaminated” the school canteen’s chee cheong fun sauce. You don’t wanna know the details.
As outlandish as the claim was, the admin – who takes his anonymity quite seriously – thought nothing about it and posted the confession on the page, just like the other 100 to 200 he receives daily about secret crushes, school gossip and, of course, sex.
“Since then, the chee cheong fun stall has been almost completely empty,” said the admin with an embarrassed laugh. “We’re trying to use the page to get people to eat there again, to help the uncle out.”
Welcome to the world of school, college and university Facebook “confession pages”, where students can submit anonymous “confessions” to a secret administrator, who will then post it on the page (not sanctioned by the schools or universities, of course). It’s all very Gossip Girl- y.
The confessions can be quite innocent, like: “To the girl who wearing pink t-shirt and carrying a LV bag, you’re pretty, hope to see you again [sic].”
Or they could be very raunchy, like: “I am a girl and I have a serious pornography addiction. Every night, I cannot go to sleep unless I spend at least an hour looking at porn.” And that’s just one of the posts we were allowed to publish.
Occasionally, they can be heart-wrenching: “Going to commit suicide in less than 60 days. Pressure mounts from every area in my life and I have just given up today. The reason I give myself 60 days is because my results will be out then and I am certain I will fail almost everything.”
According to American Degree Programme student Joanne Raena Raj, the university pages are usually more explicit.
“At my uni, it’s mostly about sex, drugs and how students don’t attend class,” she said. “There was even a confession about someone who saw a couple having sex in a lecture hall, filmed it, and uploaded the video to the Internet.”
With scandalous confessions like that, it’s no wonder these pages have become wildly popular. The UTAR Confessions gained 1,000 followers in just a week, and is now closing in on the 14,000 mark.
The Catholic High School page has over 3,700 “Likes” (and counting), and it has only been around for about a month! According to the admin, the school only has around 3,000 students.
“Our page statistics show we have followers who are 30-40 years old, and they’re from everywhere – the United States, Britain, Taiwan, Egypt… A lot of them are former students, who write about how they miss the school,” said the CHS admin.
The page masters
It’s important to remember that none of these confession pages are officially associated with their respective schools or universities. Anyone can start a page, as long as they’re willing to act as a page admin. The pages that gain the largest followings simply end up as the school’s “official” unofficial page.
But being an admin isn’t easy (more on that on page four). Some of them have to go through hundreds of confessions a day, trying their best to approve as many as possible while making sure they don’t post anything that could get them in trouble.
Most pages use the same system – a Google Docs form for users to submit confessions (instead of the Facebook messaging system, which does not provide anonymity), and a Facebook page where the admin can publish them.
The admin for the HUCP page, which serves students from HELP University, said he started the page “just for fun”.
“The way I see it, it’s an outlet to express feelings,” he said. “It’s not just about love and relationships. Some discuss education, and critique their lecturers. We always say students should speak up in college, but when the lecturers ask, they don’t know how to do it.
“So this confession page is like a stepping stone to give people the courage to speak up instead of always bottling it up.”
The response to the posts have been very positive, even from the lecturers, who often get tagged.
“You see a lot of encouragement in the comments. One of the lecturers gives really good advice too, especially on a few posts about teenage pregnancy.”
Like all the other page admins we spoke to, the HUCP admin is very careful about keeping his identity a secret. His witty comments on the page have attracted a fair amount of interest from other students, but he doesn’t intend to reveal himself.
“I’m not doing this to get famous. Plus, some of them can get unhappy with me (over certain confessions). It’s also a good way for me to remain unbiased,” he added.
Many universities and higher education institutions are aware of this trend, according to Monash University Sunway Campus senior marketing manager Ooi Lay Tin, who was quick to add that they are “not endorsed or controlled by the institutions in any way”.
The HUCP admin said the university has so far taken a fairly liberal approach towards his page. He said they’ve tried to find out who he is with no success, but they still managed to get in touch with him online.
“The university’s head of social media said it was fine for us to post our opinions – just don’t use the university’s name. And I respect that, I understand that, so we closed the group and started a new one – HUCP,” he said.
A university media relations officer, who had no idea her university had a popular confession page, was more wary.
“It’s good that the students have a place to rant and vent their frustrations, but confession pages are not the right platform as they could jeapordise the institution’s reputation,” she said.
For the HUCP admin, the key is moderation. Some admins are quite daring in approving confessions, but he makes sure everything that goes public on his page is not offensive or defamatory.
“The students have to learn to self-censor. The admins will moderate, but you should think for yourself and know what you should or shouldn’t post.”
CONFESSION pages have been sweeping the world, with news reports from the United States, Australia, India, South Africa, Singapore and Saudi Arabia all bringing the trend to light.
There’s no telling how, where or when the trend started; but the pages, which are unofficially linked to schools and universities, allow students to submit anonymous confessions to be published on a Facebook page – and they have caused quite a stir with the often raunchy nature of the “confessions”.
According to a story by Reuters, police in Montana, US moved to shut down two high school confession pages due to the constant offensive content, but the students simply started a third, prompting the police to threaten defamation charges. Pages in Idaho and Arizona have also been shut down by schools.
A more worrying case surfaced just three months ago when a student at Aragon High School in the US posted a threat against the school in a confession page, which has lead to police patrols around the school.
In Australia, ANU Confessions, a page for students of the Australian National University, was removed from Facebook due to explicit descriptions of sexual violence against women.
But that hasn’t stopped confession pages from popping up all over the world. Princeton, Harvard and Yale all have pages now (though they are very inactive, leading one user to comment “there’s a reason why they bring home Nobels”), while the National University of Singapore even has its own website (confesslah.com) with over 89,000 confessions and counting.
There’s even a website called http://www.college-confessions.com, where users (mostly from American universities) can publish confessions directly to the site, and not through a Google Doc form like most other Facebook-based pages. All confessions are tagged along with others from the same university, with the University of North Texas currently leading the way with almost 8,000 posts.
By DENIELLE LEONG, IAN YEE and KEVIN TAN