Note: for the purposes of this article, the administrator of UManitoba Confessions is referred to as Admin, and the administrator of UManitoba Confessions 2.0 is referred to as Admin 2.0
Since the start of Facebook pages UManitoba Confessions and UManitoba Confessions 2.0 in April 2013 and January 2014, respectively, students at the University of Manitoba have observed anonymous sexist, racist, and generally problematic “confessions” from their fellow students being posted online daily by anonymous administrators.
Though there is supposedly no connection between the two pages, both have a substantial following, receiving 10,655 likes (UManitoba Confessions) and 4,526 likes (UManitoba Confessions 2.0) as of press time on March 24.
Both administrators spoke to the Manitoban on the condition of anonymity concerning their motivations to run the page, their process of running the page, and their justifications for providing a platform for at times vitriolic language.
Using the “message” feature on the page, individuals can send their confessions to the administrators, of which the administrators then sort through. UManitoba Confessions posts anywhere from 2-20 confessions per day, and UManitoba Confessions 2.0 posts on average 10 confessions per day.
According to Admin 2.0, the inbox is filled with roughly 20 new messages a day, of which he combs through to select about 10 posts that will spark comments from students.
The confessions get posted unedited and unfiltered, according to Admin 2.0. Although, there is some amount of assessment involved in choosing which confessions to post.
“Things that don’t sound at all like a confession or don’t sound like a revealing thing about the person often just don’t get posted,” he said.
Sexist and racist confessions abound on the page, and most contain numerous “likes” and comments in response.
Admin 2.0’s justification for providing a forum to prejudicial attitudes on the page is that the confessions “speak to the unspoken reality that exists on campus, that those individuals don’t want to share publicly.”
“The reality is those people exist and those are their real confessions,” he said. “So then the question is: is it a benefit or a detriment that those confessions are made public for everyone to see or comment on? And the argument could go either way.”
Based on the nature of posts approved by Admin 2.0, the implication is that he sees some benefit to making such posts public; otherwise the page would be filled with entirely different—arguably less offensive—confessions, as in the case of the original UManitoba Confessions page.
Admin 2.0 assured the Manitoban that he does not agree with the attitudes and language expressed in many of the confessions, “because everyone [on the page] is [an] adult,” and he does not choose submissions to post solely because of their discriminatory nature; he wants to leave moral choices up to the viewers and commenters.
However, Admin 2.0 also said, “The more controversial or surprising to me that a post is, the more I’m going to want to post it.”
The Facebook page’s “about” section touts that confessions will be posted “with total anonymity,” yet Admin 2.0 told the Manitoban, “The Internet is just fraught with problems because of the level of anonymity that people have.”
He felt his page is different from sites like Reddit, because individuals who decide to comment on the confessions are not anonymous.
Examples of problematic confessions posted on the page are those that use racial descriptors, and confessions that are misogynistic and degrading.
Admin 2.0 felt that “there’s a line to be drawn in some things that could be taken as derogatory and things that are universally hurtful when people hear them,” referring to explicit racist language which he says he has not yet received in his inbox.
When asked why he continues to post misogynistic confessions, which one could argue are universally hurtful to women, Admin 2.0 said, “I think it could be [hurtful] to some, yes, perhaps, but I don’t want to be the judge of that.”
“I want the page to run itself as much as possible,” said Admin 2.0, before talking with the Manitoban about replying to confessions publicly in the comments section, using the administrator account.
In one particular instance, confession #217, a woman confessor writes about her sadness in not being able to find a boyfriend. Admin 2.0 responded to this confession in the comments section, in a comment over 700 words long.
“If it is at all possible, losing weight really does help (though it is not absolutely necessary). For men it’s a significant help to be more on the athletic side with defined shoulders and lower body fat (not necessarily ripped, just in good shape with a bit of definition), and for women it helps to ditch the spare tire and work on getting that hourglass figure and a nice butt,” wrote Admin 2.0.
The reason Admin 2.0 chose to comment publicly on this confession was that he “felt that the other comments didn’t really address what this person was really interested in.” According to Admin 2.0, “they were giving advice that I just happened to disagree with, so I chimed in.”
But Admin 2.0 tries to “add as little of [his] own moral beliefs to the process as possible.”
Of the two, UManitoba Confessions arguably posts less heinous confessions less often, though a number of vitriolic confessions have also been posted on the page.
In confession #511, the confessor speaks of poking holes in free condoms that were handed out on campus. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that poking holes in a sexual partner’s condom is sexual assault.
Admin received the confession from what they said was a fake Facebook account, and has therefore taken no action with this information.
“I try to filter out the submissions that are obviously fake, and extremely inappropriate,” said Admin.
In this case, according to Admin’s logic, a fake account can lead to a submission being posted, whereas a fake confession will not be posted.
Admin posted a confession on March 18 where an anonymous confessor cyberbullied a student on campus. Though the student was not named in the post, some students on campus were aware of the identity of the unnamed person. After receiving a message to take down the post, Admin complied.
“I do not intend to harm anyone, and am more than willing to work with people that dislike certain posts,” said Admin.
When asked if, by providing a platform for hurtful language to reach a wide audience, Admin felt as though they were contributing to the perpetuation of stereotypes, Admin responded, “I do not believe I contribute to these stereotypes because although I do post the confessions, and they are not my personal beliefs, this is a confession page, and people should be able to express themselves, good or bad. That being said, I do moderate some of the posts, and do not post many of these types of posts.”