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Confessions Without Penance

Confessions Without Penance

A WWU Instagram Confession Page Raises Issues With Anonymity 

By Eli Haynal 

Instagram confession pages, on which students anonymously submit their opinions, info, and questions about the University, have been around for a while at Walla Walla University—but the new page @wallawallaconfess recently spread questionable content about the campus. 

The current generation of college students make frequent use of social media as a way to connect with each other, and platforms like Instagram have become even more important for connection in light of the pandemic. Like it or not, rumormongering is a core element of human social interaction, and human nature will drive the spread of rumors despite COVID-19. 

Enter Instagram confession pages; WWU students have several, run by anonymous University students. Their peers can use a separate app, usually “Tellonym,” to submit short, anonymous messages to the confession page’s owner. The owner proceeds to select some of these “tells” to post on the Instagram page for anyone to see. 

The page owner and the students who make submissions are both protected by anonymity, and usually this extends to anyone mentioned in the posts. However, the new page @wallawallaconfess recently started posting a great number of submissions very quickly—and these submissions included names of students. 

Some posts commented on peoples’ bodies, some exposed students’ sexual lives, and some were just directly insulting. Most were about women. In this, the name of the page is false, because these submissions are not really confessions. Confessions relate personal information about the confessor, and anonymity gives them safety, but these submissions attack others under the protection of anonymity. 

Controversial posts on a WWU confessions page tests the boundaries of anonymity on social media. Artwork by Belicia Jiao.

Herein lies the problem with anonymity: it unilaterally protects the confessor. If they submit true information, they can expose secrets with no fear of retribution from the parties involved, and if they choose to maliciously submit false information, they will not face any consequences if their falsehood is exposed. 

Needless to say, this protection led to a massive influx of submissions to @wallawallaconfess, and they posted several submissions, all inflammatory, per day. This went on for about a week, drawing a mix of engaged and upset comments from the WWU student body. However, earlier this week, the page was suddenly and mysteriously deleted. 

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No one has been able to provide any information on whether the owner chose to delete the page after disputes concerning its content or whether they were approached by University administration. Whatever the case, its submissions now only remain in the memories and screenshots of its previous followers. 

However, the most disturbing information is that the page may have pushed yet another boundary of anonymity. While most such Instagram accounts use the aforementioned anonymous submission app Tellonym, @wallawallaconfess’ posts appeared to be screenshots of Instagram direct messages. This means that whoever ran the page knows the identity of each student that made a submission. 

Such knowledge opens the door to harmful practices like extortion, manipulation, and blackmail—but just as the confessors initially sought protection in anonymity, a final layer of anonymity may yet provide them protection from their own words: after this whole affair, the identity of the page’s owner remains unknown. 

To use their knowledge for manipulation, @wallawallaconfess’ former owner may run the risk of revealing themselves. Their would-be victims would then be equipped to turn them in. This may dissuade any further drama related to the short-lived @wallawallaconfess, but only time will tell. 

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