By Conrad Scheid
The Internet has never been known as the best way to keep a secret, but it sure holds some mysteries. Take one counterintuitive online fad that has random people anonymously submit their secrets to local Facebook “confession” pages, which then broadcast the news to followers of the feed.
Katie Wyckoff, an occasional contributor to U of M Confessions, decided to share the following tidbit, one day after class: “I go shopping for my next boyfriend at Target.”
It was a joke referencing her accidental habit of dating men who worked at the retail chain. At the time, it fit with the tone of the page: anonymous users sharing thoughts about their crushes, their relationships, and occasionally their drug use or other sophomoric behavior.
Wyckoff, a senior at the University of Montana, thought her confession would go largely unnoticed. The page published upward of 10 posts a day.
“I kind of expected to post it and have it disappear into the deluge,” she said.
But when she logged on to Facebook days later, a notification brought her back to the post. A friend had tagged her name in a comment. She had been outed.
Wyckoff said it wasn’t a huge embarrassment. She’d posted the confession to entertain the thousands of people who followed the page. But now she knew her friends were watching too.
“It started to feel kind of dirty,” she said.
Luke Conway, a social psychologist and professor at the University of Montana, compares online confessions to the powerful but short-lived gratification provided by hard drugs.
Letting go of your secrets is actually a great way “to gain healing, forgiveness, and a chance to start over,” Conway said. But using a website like U of M Confessions might short-circuit that natural process, “in the same way heroin short-circuits the intended and natural pleasure process.”
Not all followers of these burgeoning pages use them as confessionals. Some, like Matthew Wyant, are there for entertainment.
“I never took it seriously,” Wyant said. “It was always something I did for fun.”
Wyant, a Bozeman native, began following MSU’s confession page in May 2013. He quickly started commenting on the posts he read.
“It can seem like I’m being harsh sometimes,” Wyant said. “But I don’t feel like I’m being mean or bullying people.”
Wyant’s main justification for his online behavior is that the people who made the confession might not even see his response. They will not be notified that their confession has been posted or that anyone is commenting on it. He says his jokes are really for the entertainment of other readers.
But it’s not that simple to Wyckoff. For her, the fun isn’t worth all the other hassle anymore.
“When you’re talking to someone who you don’t know, it’s easy to get mean,” she said.