Opinion

Internet anonymity has its limits

Anonymous Facebook pages tailored to university communities have become a popular outlet for college students looking to express themselves freely. At the University of Miami, several hundred students have liked the pages UMiami Secrets, U Miami Whispers and UMiami Admirers, to name a few.

The idea is similar to the PostSecret project, where people anonymously mail in secrets on a homemade postcard. When creator Frank Warren visited campus in 2011, he emphasized the healthy need to share secrets and the empowering feeling of connecting to someone with the same secret.

But because of this anonymity, many of the Facebook pages have become an online version of a campus gossip tabloid. Despite the prevalence of inappropriate and disrespectful comments, students still have the freedom of expression.

There shouldn’t be restrictions on the existence of these pages, but both users and page administrators should realize that there are limitations to anonymity – especially when it comes to criminal activity.

The risk of these anonymous confessionals was demonstrated at Boston College last week when a student on the BC Confessions page posted about sexually assaulting three girls. Police were notified, and the student admins of the page turned over information on the submission to authorities.

Facebook pages granting anonymity to their users create an expectation of privacy, which is the reason people feel comfortable revealing thoughts that they wouldn’t otherwise. But it’s ultimately a false sense of security.

Administrators running the pages have taken on responsibility for the posts that are published online. It’s their job to monitor content and report crimes to authorities.

In fact, confessions to crimes should not be published in the first place. Because these pages are named in connection to universities with a reputation to uphold, it’s unwise to cause alarm and portray the institution in a bad light.

The anonymous BC Confessions post, for example, was later deemed a hoax, according to an article in The Heights, BC’s student newspaper; thus, it created an unnecessary panic that could’ve been avoided had it been privately reported to authorities. In this case, screening posts should not be considered censorship, but rather a form of ensuring safety and justice.

It’s emotionally relieving to let the truth out. But page users should remember to exercise caution, and admins should take action when there are people who don’t.

 

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.

October 9, 2013

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The Miami Hurricane


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