Saturday, June 15, 2013

Catharsis or Cyber Bullying? Try Confessing!

(This article had been originally written for, when the trend of 'Confessions' on facebook was still going strong. Thankfully, that madness has abated. However, while going through the contents of this article, I found ideas and issues still pertinent. I am hence sharing it again on Nascent Emissions. Hope you have a nice time reading it) 

Let me begin this article with a caveat. If you are looking for an objective view on the topic, then understand that you are interacting with an author who is struggling with herself to arrive at objective analysis and later deductions on this debate. However, as someone having suffered the negative side of a recent social media phenomenon, it is obvious that bias will be inherent in words that follow – passion just might overrule the possibility of a rational discourse.

I am here to confess – no, I will desist from using that word unless absolutely necessary, because for me, it has come to acquire irksome connotations. Confessions are the latest fad to have announced their grand arrival on the virtual stage and to have caught the attention of all – the old, the young, the teenaged and the infant-minded. These confessions, which opulently display themselves out on dedicated pages, identified by school, college, department or organizations, are being pursued – whether secretly or in open – by all and sundry. In very little time, they have come to be characterized by the idiom – love them or hate them, but you cannot ignore them. These confession pages are capable of giving you all entertainment you seek in the world – they excite you, they intrigue you, they might make you feel elevated, or they may cause your spirits to plummet. They are increasingly acquiring a weed-like tendency – you uproot (ban) a few of these pages, and a few more than before will sprout instantaneously in its place. So ubiquitous is their presence, that I felt no need to introduce the dynamics and mechanics of this page anywhere in the beginning of this article. These pages, in fact, are not just confined to their virtual domains, but have come to be the ultimate spring of normal day gossip and discussions among students and office-mates. The speed and ease of posting, and then the skill of facebook at spreading the written word have lent these, if I may say, unscrupulous ramblings, the power to make and break images – a sad reality in our world which thrives by feeding on gossip.

My introduction to a confession page was, interestingly, not on Facebook, but via a leading national daily. In an article, a reporter had sought the opinion of a leading psychologist about the then new trend of confessions which involve a large mass of teens and young adults. The psychologist, even more interestingly, was very positive about this whole phenomenon. According to him, the frustrations which are a natural by-product of urban lifestyles, compulsions and tensions, find a helpful and healthy vent through these anonymous online confessions. So far so good. I was happy to read about something which is working to add comfort, optimism and calm to the lives of thousands of youngsters out there. A month later, I am not so sure. If anything, I reckon that anyone who still holds this phenomenon to be positive is perhaps talking without laying on eye on the content which these so-called confessions entail.

As per my understanding, the concept of confessions finds it origin in the Catholic culture, wherein, a man, conscious of his wrongdoings, guilt-ridden, walks into a confession chamber to unburden his heart and purge his soul. It is one aspect of Christianity which I have always admired. Not only does it make one confront his weak moments, where wantonly or unwantonly, he might have indulged in a sinful act, but this one act of confession also strengthens the faith of that man in the infinite mercy of Almighty, in whose forgiveness lies his salvation. Now, one can always trust social media to cash on something so pure and noble, and transform it into a crass and cacophonous nonsense. I might be strong and extremely prejudiced in terms of my expressions, but I have peers who have spent days layered in anxiety and low self-esteem only because of some expletives directed at them from anonymous mouths. I, despite maintaining a steadfast and deliberate distance from any page with ‘confessions’ in its title, have also been embroiled in invectives reeking of misogyny and hurtful envy, if not more insidious tendencies.

Anything said above is not to discard altogether the cathartic aspects of nameless online confessions. Not in my vicinity, but on some confession pages of distant universities, students have posted genuine problems which are difficult to verbalise and have met with encouraging comments and helpful links from their peers. There are youngsters sharing their insecurities and even honest angst against institutional policies, which have led to fruitful discussions and understanding of multiple opinions. However, these instances are exceptions rather than being the rule. Most often, the confessions pages I have seen invariably contain the following – a deluge of expletives, proposals of ‘I like you’ and ‘I love you’ kind, misogynistic diatribes, demeaning explicit comments and obtuse tales of bravado. Now, which one of them can you remotely associate with the word confession? Most will agree on the fact that confessions are meant to purge or unburden oneself, and not to malign someone else. I would never even be able to understand a statement like ‘I made out in the college library’ as a confession. What is the confessioner trying to achieve by posting this? He, clearly, is not guilty of his act, rather proud in fact. What goes down in the process in the name of the institution and often necessitates a disciplinary action by authorities, especially where defamatory comments are concerned. I have personally known an admin threatened of legal action, and another relieved of his professional duties because of careless posts on his confessions page.

So, catharsis or cyber-bullying? My vote is with the latter. At the core of the appeal of such pages lies their anonymity. You can post whatever you wish. The more outrageous the content of your post, the more reactions it elicits. Responses – in the form of likes and comments – isn’t it because of them that we are all so hooked onto Facebook? Earlier, the debate was around the perils of leaving your privacy at the mercy of social platforms like Facebook. Now, via phenomena like confessions, unscrupulous elements go one step further to jeopardize the privacy, as well as the public image of others and not just themselves. With an increasing number of parents and teachers becoming a part of their ward/student’s social network, the harm caused by hurtful and malicious confessions increases manifold. I recently read on a blog that Facebook is being pressurized from many corners to shut the confession pages. I hope earnestly that the concerned people pay heed. 


  1. I must 'confess' i never heard about the 'confession page' O_O ... a very nice narration Saumya and I also like the flow of the hopping & jumping...just flowing right :) :)

    1. Thanks a lot! Your comment just lifted my spirits after a tough work schedule.

      And I have to mention, you are lucky you escaped the tyranny of these nonsensical pages. Good for you!

  2. Didn't know about confession page, at least my institute didn't have one. But your article has put very balanced, rational points and if such sort of 'confessions' do occur, I'd completely agree that it sis cyber bullying rather than a catharsis act. Your articles are always an enjoyable, and intellect-packed read.

    1. Thanks Madhuresh.

      And these 'Confessions' pages were such a nuisance. I am glad they have gone away for good.

  3. I am mostly away from facebook so I did not realize when this came into being and when it was taken off, but I think I understand what you are saying.

    Confessions with a confidant strives to elicit that there is no repeatability, the manner in which it is done to ensure that one faces its conscience before they indulge in something sinful.. Humans are very competitive. And they judge themselves by the measures of society and how would they face them.. Making confessions public loses this essence and turns into a competition of its kind.. If too many people start talking about their sins it will not be too late when it will turn into boasting oh how big an achievement their's was. Human psyche is peculiarly strange and flawsophical :P

    1. The awesome comment aside, so you are Navin! Identity revealed. Yay yay yay!