I want to talk about the “UW-Madison Confessions” Facebook page and the manufactured controversy that has recently surrounded it.
If you’re the rare student not aware of what’s going on, here is the gist: two weeks ago, someone started a Facebook page allowing University of Wisconsin students to post anonymous submissions — not that different from the Herald’s own Shout-Outs — about everything from hooking up to cheating on tests.
The difference being The Badger Herald has journalistic integrity and Confessions has none. But Confessions is a Facebook page and not a news organization, and therefore cannot be expected to adhere to journalistic standards. This is why the attacks against Confessions make no sense to me.
Katy Culver, a professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communications, has come out on Twitter actively attacking the site, calling it “vile and valueless” and criticizing the person who started the page, self-titled “The Creator,” for remaining anonymous. The university has taken action to make sure all official UW logos be removed from the page.
The page complied with the university requests, and so as far as controversy goes, the remaining question is whether or not “The Creator” is doing something wrong.
Well, the page has gotten over 16,000 likes in a matter of two weeks, so no matter what anyone else would want to say about the page, the students have clearly already spoken. And we like it.
Now do some of the posts cross the line? Sure, but every single obvious lie, crime or over-the-line joke I read was immediately followed by a comment string of people bashing the post. That instant feedback loop is in my mind one of the best features of the page — jokes everyone likes get applauded, and bad posts get instantly rejected. What better filter could you ask for?
Also there is a real silver lining to the page I think can easily get overlooked when people start surfing for a scapegoat. The two most liked posts I have seen are first, a story about a person who tried to commit suicide, failed and is now happy a year later. That got more than 750 likes. The second was posted Monday by a soldier explaining his experiences, and it got more than 2,000 likes. It beat everything else on the page.
At some point, whoever wants to bash something like this page has to realize students want to read this, and there is something important about reading a stranger’s story and feeling it resonate with our lives, or just make us laugh. And when a confession is posted that reaches for cheap comedy and is clearly fake, such as a story about exchanging birth control for Tic Tacs even though that would be impossible (something I learned on the page), there is an immediate and negative reaction from students.
It is appropriate Culver tried to push a #dontfollow hash tag in the same vein as Dean of Students Lori Berquam’s “don’t go to Mifflin” appeal last year, because they represent the same kind of misconception.
The students at this school are amazing because we don’t need our hand held by anyone. Mifflin and UW-Madison Confessions are real and valuable cultural experiences. Now, in both instances there are also some clear outliers of unacceptable behavior, but it is much more educational to recognize the good and put down the bad than it is to shut the whole thing down because one action was unacceptable.
The world doesn’t work like that. Learn as much as you can, share as much as you can, and whether it is a poop joke, a soldier’s story or a stupid lie, it’s because we hear and deal with all of those things that an interesting group of people comes out of this university.
So respect “The Creator’s” decision to remain anonymous, keep on posting and ride the latest internet meme into history — or the end of next week when we all get bored again.
John Waters (email@example.com) is a senior majoring in journalism.