Friday, February 22, 2013

Courageous or cowardly: Motives behind anonymous compliments and confessions

by Anna Sieber, Columnist   

    They seem like any other Facebook newsfeeds — until you start to read.

    One newsfeed’s post says, “Soooo, I’m a girl and I think it’s best to have an amazing sexual relationship with myself. I only include men when they behave themselves. ;)”

    The second newsfeed has a post that reads, “Girl in the gym with your hair up, in a white adidas shirt with green lettering and black adidas shorts. Watching you work out was breathtaking, I had to retake my inhaler when I saw you. :)”

    If you don’t know what I am talking about, then either you are social media-free or have been living under a rock for the last month.

    Pacific Lutheran University Compliments began in early December and P Lutheran U Confessions started in late January. Since the end of J-term, there has been a boom of activity on these pages.


    Like any great social media phenomenon, Compliments and Confessions come complete not only with grammatically incorrect “yours” and “theres,” but also a great deal of entertainment for those who tune in, no matter how unrealistic some of the confessions may be. Honestly, no one is going to believe that people like to lather themselves up in Vaseline and roll around like a slug, especially when it is a recurring post for confession pages.

    It is not worth asking why students are following these pages. People are sick and twisted and want to know what sort of sick and twisted things their peers are doing. People are curious, and perhaps looking for a pick-me-up, so they want to see who is getting attention from anonymous compliment posters.

    Students are posting things anonymously rather than simply spreading the love — or the secrets — in person, with a clear signature. Saying something “risky” to someone’s face is scary. So. Very. Scary.

    But, if it is something that needs to be said, then there is no reason not to simply say it in person. The way I see it, there are two reasons why people are resorting to these anonymous forums: passivity and entertainment.

    People are, by nature, not particularly courageous about saying what they really feel, especially when it is something nice or something embarrassing. These things do not have to be said, but sometimes it feels good to get it off the chest, like unloading some shameful burden.

    There is a certain level of awkwardness — and some serious guts — involved in telling someone they are attractive, or have a heart of gold, or that they give you butterflies every time you see them — or that you puked on their doorstep last weekend.

    However, it is easy, and much lower-risk, to tell an anonymous Survey Monkey — the site through which the posts are run. Maybe by doing so, it will give the other person — perhaps the object of your affection — the courage to come to you. You don’t have to do any of the real work.

    Then there is the entertainment factor.

    People write outlandish stories — or share real ones — as a way to entertain people. It provides something to read instead of studying. It gives people something to talk about in line at Old Main Market. The weird things people do — and the weird ways they go about complimenting others — are endlessly fascinating.

      Oh, and maybe there is a third reason, too: ego. People want to know if someone is writing about them or someone they know. It adds the mystery of “who wrote this?”

    Anonymity may not even be entirely the point. A number of the posts end along the lines of “xoxo your love.” The signature is in the hands of the poster.

    Maybe people want others to know what they did last weekend or who they have a crush on. Maybe they are hoping someone will find out. Maybe these pages will spread the love and honesty.

    As the administrator of Compliments posted, “Hopefully at that moment when you click submit on the survey or post on the message, you can feel that you took that one step towards making someone’s day. It’s what this is all about and it should spread beyond the glare of a computer screen.”

    Then again, people probably have their ulterior motives.

    Anna Sieber is a first year social work and English double major with a possible minor in philosophy, political science or some other subject. We’ll see how it goes. She likes long walks on the beach, candle-lit dinners in residence halls and enjoys summering on the dark side of the moon. Over J-term she found the tunnel to the bomb shelter under Red Square—she’ll tell you about it too, but only if you ask nicely.