Things have gone too far on Facebook confession pages

Published: September 13, 2013
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These pages are not just fun and games - they are promoting a culture of hate and are a severe breach of privacy.

“Anum, it was so gross. Nobody had noticed my hair before, but now I feel like the whole world is ogling my scalp,” Zara winced and clutched the receiver so tightly that her nail beds turned white.

“Err, no. Why don’t you forget about that stupid confession? Just keep your head high,” I paused, hunting for more motivating words to throw at her end. “We all know you don’t wear a– a wig” I gulped.

“Of course, I don’t. The confession on SMC Confessions — our university’s Facebook page — said ‘Today, I finally saw Zara of first year adjust her wig in the girls common room’,” she made a futile attempt to remind me.

“That is the point. Your hair is natural. We know that. Why care?”

“But the wig was only an excuse to taunt at my thinning hair…” Zara protested.

“I know, I…” I let the words out as a whisper over the phone.

“No, you don’t know. This is suicidal. Just because my hair is vanishing, they all get the chance to confess weird things on social networks. And the comments… they are brutal.”

She almost screamed.

“Oh God, why don’t I just die? I don’t want to go to university again…” she was frustrated and hung up soon after with a resigned “bye”.

At first, I sat down thinking about how hyper-sensitive and hyper-reactive a girl can be just because someone anonymously posted something foolish about her looks for the world to take note.

On social networking websites like Facebook, I have come across almost every educational institution’s ‘confessions’ page. The trend has been there for a while but the hype is still alive in my university and probably many others.

As I tried to put myself in Zara’s shoes, I realised just how hurt she really felt. How she looks does not have anything to do with anyone else and yet, someone out there had an itch and for the sake of mere fun, she/he posted offensive remarks, clearly mentioned Zara’s name and didn’t bother to reveal his/her own. What bravery is that? You are brave enough to post derogatory remarks about another person but are too much of a coward to post your own name with it?

People carry their own personas and sentiments; you may feel like the ‘joke’ you cracked is harmless and only light-hearted humour but that does not necessarily mean that the person you are targeting will feel the same way. Confessions can be real fun, I admit, but only when the fun does not override our values, mannerism, respect and tolerance for others. I have read and equally enjoyed reading confessions that talk about puppy-love, funny incidents and other ‘shareable’ stuff. That makes sense.

Unfortunately, what these pages are being used for instead are absolutely shocking and purely cruel motives.

Posts that targeted a young boy with feminine looks, the girl with a bright orange cell phone or my poor friend who has trouble with hair fall can cause permanent damage to their self-esteem!

And the charade does not just end there. The callous post is then ‘Liked’ and commented upon by equally insensitive people who seem to think that pointing and laughing at someone else’s weakness makes them part of a superior league, when in reality it only makes them look malicious and sadistic.

In an effort to stand up for my distraught friend, I personally messaged the page administrator to deactivate the page or, at least, remove such posts, but the only reply I received was,

 “Sorry, our rules do not include removal of posts.”

In return, I asked how they could so blindly put up such insulting posts. Frustrated I persisted and asked,

“Do you even read them for once? Why don’t any rules apply to the selection of post-able posts?”

I received no answer to this.

I then thought of replying to the post about Zara directly and try my best to put a stop to the nonsensical things that were being said about her. When I scrolled down to the post, I realised that not only did the post have over 120 comments encouraging this behaviour, there was a rather crass joke that was liked by 225 people that read,

“Must be an outcome of perming. Please contact Zubaida Aapa for hair treatment tips before you really buy a wig.”

This post was paired with an array of smileys and 225 ignorant people cheering the offensive post on.

Resigned, hopeless and feeling utterly helpless in my efforts to stop this fire from spreading further, I felt like the only thing I could do now was burst into tears.

It has been weeks now, and such posts continue. The constant traffic and rise in such Facebook pages shows how rapidly this trend is growing. Every time I cross the hallways in my university all I hear are hushed whispers of the next poor soul being targeted, sneaky echoes of laughter ricocheting off the walls and in some dreary corner, the silent murmurs of fear, despair and loathing from the last victim.

Every single person in the university now wants to maintain a low profile for fear of becoming the next victim of this shameful game. I don’t know when I will be next, I don’t know which aspect of my life will be inappropriately, and rather disproportionately, targeted and I am not sure how I can protect myself from it either. Neither does anyone else.

These pages are not just fun and games – they are promoting a culture of hate and are a severe breach of privacy. The consequences of an insulting post can be fatal – there are many people who will not have the courage to stand up to these posts, and that could lead to grave outcomes.

As for Zara and the others, they will, hopefully, find a way to cope. In the meantime, we need to quickly identify the rather blurry line between what is funny and what is belittling before someone gets seriously injured. The person to blame is not just the anonymous body that posts such stuff; even those who read, ‘Like’ and comment are equally involved. We all are!

Let’s play the confession game safely and if we can’t, let’s quit it completely. It’s not worth ruining someone’s life.

Have you or anyone you know ever been bullied by a Facebook confessions page? Share your story with us! Email [email protected]

Anum Zakir Khan

Anum Zakir Khan

A prospective doctor at Sindh Medical College, who is an avid reader, a tennis fan and enjoys writing.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.