In recent years, anonymous ‘confession’ pages, most common on Facebook, have proliferated in Edinburgh. The biggest player: Edifess.
Founded in June 2018, the page is closing in on 16 thousand likes but is no stranger to controversy, having faced a stream of racism allegations.
The Student spoke to an Edifess admin, who acknowledged a problematic history. They said: “We can’t deny that some of the content clearly had a negative impact on parts of the community, a fact for which we are deeply sorry and have made as much effort as possible to fix. That said, as a fully BAME admin team, we do feel that some voices get cut out of the equation, particularly within the BAME community.”
They pointed to a post about PakSoc, now removed due to allegations it was racist. “We had many Pakistani or minority students directly message the page saying they found it funny and the flak Edifess received was unwarranted, and all but one of the complaints we received were from white students. The moment we had a complaint from a minority student, we took it down. It is very frustrating to see white people often becoming outraged on behalf of minorities, when in some, but not all cases, they don’t actually care.”
The admin suggested that policing the site was a tough job with grey areas. “Another assumption that people make is that we very flippantly post controversial content, just to drive up engagement. That is not true. The overwhelming majority of posts do not get posted, either because they are offensive, rude, spreading misinformation, using someone’s name or just downright mean. Sadly, we do get sent a lot of racist or offensive content. It would shock people if they saw it. Sometimes maybe we have made the wrong choice. The admins are only human.”
In an attempt to create a BAME-friendly space to share experiences, Edi BAMEfess, a page started in June, has amassed over 2,300 likes. Speaking to The Student, the page’s founder said: “Online everyone is constantly posting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and all these statistics. It just felt so temporary. If all these people are genuinely interested in listening to the experiences of non- white people and helping non-white people feel safer, then I want to consolidate that by making a permanent record of all these experiences so that it can’t just be a trend.”
The page has sparked controversy despite its short life, with one post (#222) suggesting the page was ‘becoming an anti-black page.’
The admin responded: “I think it’s a fair comment. I’m not going to sit here and argue that people haven’t displayed anti-blackness because that doesn’t just mean submissions, that means comments. It would never be my aim for the page to be an anti-black one. I think it is quite telling that people who follow the page are displaying anti-black behaviour.”
The admin also responded to a post (#220) claiming the page was becoming ‘an oppression olympics’.
“Instead of experiences it was more conversation and that did seem more like ‘oppression olympics’. The aim of the page is to show all experiences are valid and that they don’t need to be compared to be valid.”
Often controversy is tied to anonymity and provides admins with a headache, something the EdiBAMEfess admin acknowledged. They said: “Recently, with the South Asian Students Association [series of posts], there was a false post trying to change the narrative by putting out a lie. You have to have a lot of trust. You have to believe everything the person is saying but you cannot really verify it.
Anonymity and the resulting lack of accountability often lead pages into a conflicted area, highlighted by an Edi BAMEfess post (#277) suggesting the BAME community should stay “away from seeking help from white people and especially doctors for your mental health.”
The admin said: “I see how that may be interpreted as someone shouldn’t seek help from a doctor. But I also think that the rest of the submission gives context for why they have come to that conclusion.
“The page has got a large following in the short time that it has been around and I think that comes with responsibility. Everything needs to be looked at and scrutinised and the wider impact does need to be thought about.”
The Edifess admins have felt the effect of their anonymity personally. They said: “Although we have received a lot of positive, supportive messages there have been a few quite rude, nasty messages to admin in the last year. The page has never been run by a fully white team. Equally, it has never been run by an all-male team. But many people made that assumption with confidence.”
While the admins of Edifess and Edi BAMEfess are learning that they have a serious responsibility, there is simply no one that is publicly accountable for misjudged editorial choices, misinformation and discriminatory content.
The question of whether this is fair or not becomes increasingly urgent and relevant when organisations such as societies are discussed by posts without the same anonymity or a right to respond to being afforded to them.
It may only be a matter of time before a more ominous level of harm is caused by confessions pages anonymity.
Image: Katie Moore