Anonymity found in Oxy Confessions mimics real life

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It’s midnight, and the amount of tabs open on Google Chrome is nothing short of 20. From left to right sit an unfinished InternAway application, MyOxy (as if being on the site is somehow inherently productive) and a gross array of irrelevant searches that still somehow seem too potentially relevant to exit out of. It takes one glance at the distractions seeping out of the screen to trigger the opening of a new tab, before completely giving in and hitting the “F” key, a procrastination reflex that leads straight to Facebook.

While Facebook is often considered a mindless distraction, it also provides narcissistic entertainment. We use “likes” generated by Sunday night profile pictures and carefully edited statuses as a way to achieve validation. Oxy Confessions has developed a platform for self-affirmation and self-loathing, mimicking the kind of attention promoted by popular sites frequented in middle school like AskFm or Formspring.

Yet in our real lives judgment also circulates everywhere on a small campus like ours. Each comment, relationship or outfit becomes a way to categorize or define a student’s identity. Oxy Confessions allows for a space in which students can make a comment without worrying about damaging their reputation. There are relatively low stakes for posting a crush on Oxy Confessions versus blurting it out in real life. And sometimes, students want to keep it that way. With no accountability for published comments, at the end of the day it is valuable to have an outlet for honesty in a campus environment where putting up an indifferent front is the norm.

While some students see Oxy Confessions as a platform for cyberbullying, it seems the site has developed recently to display less harmful content, fostering a positive space in which students can find solace from the often anxiety-inducing social scene. Furthermore, digital content is not that alien from the way we interact with one another regularly in person. We “friend” someone after a few glasses of wine on a Tuesday evening, then ignore them during the wait at the toaster the morning after. The unsourced nature of Oxy Confessions mimics our anonymity when making passing judgments in real life.

The Oxy Confessor could be any one of us, strolling past Lower Herrick or panting on their walk to the top of Fiji. They are the only one who have access to the comments submitted, deciding what content to publish and which amateur pickup lines don’t make the cut. The page allows for a discourse that students might not feel comfortable starting normally but still want to lay out on the table. It can also be used to publicize Occidental-specific moments, from salt missing from the Marketplace tables to fervent crushes sparked during Dance Production, creating an inclusive environment by publishing experiences that only we as Tigers feel connected to.

Tessa Blum (sophomore), who recently transferred to Occidental, commented on the nature of the page versus day-to-day life around campus.

“I think Oxy Confessions reflects a larger sense of anonymity in college; for example we often don’t say ‘hi’ to people that we roughly know,” Blum said. “We already establish mechanisms to preserve our anonymity on small campuses because if we were to engage with everyone we’ve met it would be exhausting.”

Constantly surrounded by peers, we tend to try to create a sense of privacy wherever we can. We shut ourselves off in certain settings where we are still expected to be “on,” like sitting at one of the strange side tables at the marketplace or making a beeline for the quiet section. After having a delirious midnight bonding session in the back of the library where we shared our weird health problems with a stranger, we may choose to be alone the next morning. We hope that this variable privacy and selective alone time will take us off the hook, separate us from the paparazzi feel of college life. The same anonymity we want from Oxy Confessions, we seek in our daily lives.

 

Additionally, in the past year, the comments posted seem to have become more censored and filtered. While some confessions could still be categorized as “first draft,” or as an unpolished thought, they aren’t necessarily menacing. In previous years, this filtering has been less monitored, causing upset among students by publishing insolent sexual comments, self-harm threats and malicious statements made to sectors of the student body. These incidents are prime examples of how the page has formerly acted as a platform for cyberbullying. Lately, the page reflects a desperate search for attention, for entertainment, for a break — a pursuit we all give in to as we move about campus.

In person, we’ll halfheartedly welcome someone back from abroad or smile at the friends we whispered about yesterday. By keeping our walls up and putting on a façade, we guard ourselves from the responsibility of real relationships, the same responsibility we avoid when we enter that infamous F into the search bar.

Maggie Duffy is a first-year sociology major. She can be reached at mduffy@oxy.edu.