Why are crush pages becoming the new online phenomenon?
A light-hearted outlet or an alternative platform for online abuse? The growing trend of confessing & its consequences
By Megan Haf Donoher
Courtesy of Glen Carrie Via Unsplash
In a time when face-to-face interactions have been heavily restricted, creating innovative and imaginative ways to connect and share in an online space has been a necessity to fill the social void.
Like many social media trends, the Facebook confession pages have continued to appear over recent years and are now an established feature of university students’ online presence. Also referred to as a crush page, these pages are specific to a university and are generally used for students to anonymously post their secrets to their respective communities. Once a statement is sent to the administrators of the page, it is then decided which statements and stories are shared.
While anonymity is usually frowned upon and remains the cause of much online distress and abuse, this new method of online social interaction is thought to be a healthy medium for students to ‘confess’ their often relatable mistakes and experiences, getting it off their chest in a way they might be unable to achieve in person.
And it isn’t just relationship and dating experiences that are being shared. As their online presence grows, anonymous confessions pages on Facebook are being increasingly used as a means of seeking genuine advice and support. From academic struggles to flatmate drama to what to do if you think you’re being followed home from a night out, there isn’t a topic that hasn’t been covered. It would seem as the popularity and demand for these pages has grown, so has the limit on what you can actually post about.
Once posted, members of that page see the confession and are free to comment upon it. And so it poses the question: are crush pages just a bit of fun and entertainment, or should universities be taking more responsibility for what’s being put out into the open for all to read? While the pages are generally well moderated by the people who clearly seem to have an appreciation of free speech, there is perhaps a lack of control when it comes to the comments section. Ultimately, the type of vigilance that these creators behind the scenes need is immense, and when you consider that they are also students with university commitments and personal lives, the task can seem quite daunting. While the admins of these pages created them with good intentions, it cannot be ignored that there are perhaps elements that remain simply out of their control.
Concern that this may just be another online phenomenon whereby students are being subjected to abuse has been raised, specifically when many posts are of a sexual nature or related to excessive drinking or drug-taking. There are over 100 pages for universities across the UK. Institutions may feel as though it paints their students in a bad light if viewed by a prospective student or parent of a potential applicant. Alternatively, what is being expressed under the shroud of online anonymity can be concerning if someone appears to be at risk to themselves and is actually in need of a real-life response.
AberCrush, the University of Aberdeen’s confession page, is followed by almost 5,000, and with an average of three posts being published a day, the page has published over 4,000 confessions.
It's a student-run page which “predominantly seeks to provide some light relief to students amongst the grey Granite City”, according to the AberCrush admins.
Like most pages, it covers both serious and light-hearted confessions that shed a light on both the ridiculousness and reality of student life. Insecurities, campus gossip, relationship angst, and friendship drama, etc. Most would agree that it’s a positive online community that opens up real-life conversations and creates connections on a campus that has been deprived of human interaction for far too long. The ability to be yourself anonymously offers a sigh of relief for many, especially when posts about mental health are met with sympathetic and supportive comments.
In light of the recent news that’s left students feeling sick and violated after nightclub spiking by injection, this platform is now giving individuals the freedom to share their stories. In a time when students perhaps feel isolated and discouraged from going out, crush pages enable people to come together and stay reliably informed. The planned boycotting of nightclubs due to take place at the end of this month, for example, is being shared and promoted on these existing pages, encouraging people to take part.
However, AberCrush recently felt pressured to limit future comments on a post that discussed the issue of spiking, anxious that students were being subjected to harsh and unfair judgement without the appropriate context. The admins noted that “...while everyone is entitled to free speech you are not necessarily entitled to be protected from the consequences of that”. While this is reassuring in the sense that posts can and have previously been removed to prevent challenging comments, it does exemplify the damage crush pages can cause if not moderated with caution. For example, in 2019, ExeHonestly (hosted by Exeter University students) made national headlines when Nazi propaganda was published by the page's admins, forcing it to be shut down.
And yet, the occasional backfire seems to be drastically outweighed by the good these pages are doing in allowing students a space to turn to when perhaps there is nobody else. Despite the assumption that all social media is unambiguously detrimental to mental health, and prior to ExeHonestly being removed, the page encouraged a student facing a mental health crisis to seek professional medical help. It’s no secret that university mental health services remain underfunded, and many are merely critically unsupported. Confession pages, therefore, create a space that often feels more accessible than other options, presuming all necessary trigger and content warnings are attached.
Perhaps it’s a bittersweet reality that boredom has led to a generation’s obsession to be heard in an online space.
Are we truly surprised that spending our lives staring at screens has resulted in seeking validation from complete strangers on the internet rather than trusting our loved ones?
As long as no serious harm is being caused, the increasing popularity of crush pages means students are likely to defend the right to engage with its content.
Endless scrolling through social media on our phones now offers a new means of entertainment and the reassurance that you’re not the only one with an embarrassing or dark secret to spill.