Dangerous “Confessions”

Ceara Danaher

Middlebury has been infected once again. We couldn’t stop with Facebook. Yet another form of electronic entertainment, a new method to needlessly eat away at the hours, has been birthed in the form of Middlebury Confessional.

The website has been introduced to our student body by some ingenious and possibly sadistic Oberlin student. It is owned by a corporation called Wilder Bowl, LLC, that appears to know exactly how to feed on our vulnerabilities. It is a hub of gossip, all supposedly contained within our little collegiate community, that functions on anonymity. And therein lies its danger.

The potential for this endeavor to go wrong is glaring. People already disclaim Middlebury students as being overly gossipy and judgmental. Combine these qualities with the ceaseless pressures of life here, the constant oppression of political correctness, and the allure of distractions from academics. You have Middlebury Confessional. To top off all of the apparent benefits of this website, there is the factor of anonymity. Students accustomed to guarding their thoughts, operating on politeness and within strict social confines suddenly have the ability to voice their every whim, with no repercussions or regulations.

One would like to think that Middlebury students have more respect for their friends and themselves than to give in to such a vehicle. But, as recent news about the Honor Code has evidenced, we are not always as moral here as we might believe. There are already indications that the site is headed south.

“This website shows how much we all actually hate each other. Ah, human nature,” reads one foreboding post. In many ways, it’s right. The site’s Terms of Use insist that hurtful messages or individual’s names are not allowed in posts. The consequences of breaking the rules appear to be that the posts will be deleted . . . eventually. The site’s moderator, an Oberlin senior, wrote an apology for not removing posts quickly. “It’s always kinda hard on the weekends, but I usually get to removing posts at least once a day” he says. Personally, I find this type of lackadaisical attitude appalling. If someone is going to introduce a time bomb like this into our community, they need to handle it appropriately. Especially when we, unfortunately, cannot.

Despite the site’s guidelines, people frequently write out full names of their peers or create posts that are vindictive, even cruel. It’s as though our classmates have been transported back to vicious middle school locker room mentalities, but with an additional decade of knowledge to use as ammunition.

One of the scariest elements of Middlebury Confessional is that it cannot be known who or what is real. It would be possible for a single person to essentially sever good feelings in our community by manipulating posts and prompting angry feelings. And— for another unwanted dose of reality— it is worth recognizing that as much as we’d like to think that Middlebury students are the only people tapping into this website, that is just not true. The potential for harm is so great, is it worth it to even maintain this website as a source of distraction and amusement?

I’ll admit, the possibility of the web site doing good things does exist. Middlebury Confessional could function as an interactive version of Xander Manshel’s PostSecret Project. It has the ability to connect people who believe themselves isolated, to raise awareness, to provoke thinking, to provide support, and to encourage creativity. In some instances, it can simply insert humor into our lives. Perhaps it is the type of alternative, imaginative, releasing forum that our over-worked, socially-stifled, student body needs.

Or, if my instincts are correct, it could go very wrong and divide us further apart than we already are. Self-consciousness, paranoia, and rampant, uncensored judgments are not emotions that we need more of here. With Middlebury Confessional, that is exactly what we’re inviting.

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