The Secret World of Anonymous Confessions on the Internet | Technology

Fear, shame and stigma can keep people from revealing deep, intimate issues. Or sometimes it’s a privacy issue.

Keeping secrets can actually cause harm, “leading to fatigue, social isolation and a reduced sense of well-being,” according to researchers at Columbia University in the United States.

So how else can we reveal intimate issues without hurting ourselves or others? With social networks, anonymous “confession pages” have emerged.

For centuries, humans have confessed to religious leaders, while in recent decades radio shows have occupied this space, allowing people to share their secrets anonymously.

In 1980, an artist created the Apology Line, which ran for 15 years and allowed New Yorkers to leave messages on an answering machine. The aim was “to provide a way for people to apologize for their wrongdoings against people without harming themselves”. Recently, the tapes were shared on a podcast that has become popular in the city, proving that there is an appetite for listening to others’ confessions.

Now, in a world that always seeks perfection in Instagram accounts, there is a rare corner of the internet where people are more honest, without revealing their identities: the confession pages that allow users to share secrets.

Keeping secrets guarded can lead to feelings of inauthenticity and decreased satisfaction — Photo: Getty Images

At first, forums and chat rooms formed the right place for this content and, later, applications dedicated to the subject were developed.

But now it’s the moderated social media accounts that are taking up that space.

Shared secrets range from funny to heartbreaking stories – and this sharing has a history rooted in school and university communities.

“If people can connect to online support groups, it can be a great opportunity to share secrets anonymously, feel validated, and learn from others who have similar experiences,” says Zehra Kamal Alam, a psychologist from Islamabad, in Pakistan.

“This can be extremely helpful, especially when it comes to opening up about taboo issues of sexuality, violence and sexual abuse.”

She says that in the counseling and therapy space, talking about problems is a healing process, so it’s no surprise that people are turning to the internet to share their secrets.

Sharing secrets anonymously creates a sense of community among readers and moderators — Photo: Getty Images

“In the old days of the internet, you could go into a forum and spend your brains with virtually no consequences,” says Rob Manuel of London, the man behind a popular Twitter confession page called Fesshole.

“The page isn’t read by your family or your boss, it’s just a safe space to unload your mind. Without it, over time, you could say the wrong thing and your world could explode.”

“Social media is like a fruit processor where if you keep spinning you can get thousands of useless likes and if you stop you could lose your job.”

Fesshole started two and a half years ago and has over 325k followers. Hundreds of anonymous confessions are sent to Rob every day, and he selects just 16 to share with the public.

“I’m working as a kind of editor,” he explains. “I’m not going to share things that are obviously untrue, or that aren’t consensual. There are some things that are just bleak and I wouldn’t want to encourage them,” she explains.

Fesshole’s confessions include the banal stories of a teacher who curses students behind his mask and a person who invents words to complete crossword puzzles.

Another person wrote: “My stepdad passed away last year and my mom was heartbroken. Had to go through his stuff and find his passwords. Turns out he was having affairs on various dating sites. I never told her, it would go away your heart even more.”

Rob wants the page to be mostly comedic, but includes more complex stories to give the accounts an “emotional reach”.

Fighting shame and stigma

Other pages, like The Secret Keepers, which operates on Instagram, have turned to “more intense personal confessions”.

“We live in a world devoid of nuance and it can be difficult to talk about intense personal issues with friends and family,” says Olivia Petter, one of the people behind UK-based The Secret Keepers.

Over the past decade, several unmoderated confession apps have been shut down over allegations of cyberbullying — Photo: Getty Images

“If you feel sensitive about something, maybe you don’t want to expose yourself. It feels safer and less judgmental when you’re anonymous, on the internet. That’s why people have therapists: you tell them things you’d never tell your loved ones.” friends,” says Petter.

The Secret Keepers provides an open forum for support and discussion about the confessions shared on the page, which include a woman who regrets motherhood and another who loves her partner but finds her sex life terrible.

The account’s followers, which include many therapists and psychologists, write encouragements and give advice to people who make the confessions.

“Sharing secrets can make people feel less alone and more connected when they’re already isolated, and it can also deal with the shame of many of these issues,” says Olivia.

“The page is really resonating with the public, and it’s lovely to see that it’s really helping. We hope The Secret Keepers can help combat some of the stigma surrounding the issues by showing that feelings are valid.”

However, there is a downside to confession platforms, especially when they are not controlled.

While anonymity can encourage honest discussion, it can also provide space for reckless and cruel comments.

The Sarahah app was removed from Google and Apple stores in 2018 after accusations it was facilitating bullying.

The app – named after the Arabic word for honesty – was created for employers to receive anonymous and honest feedback from colleagues.

Instead, users used the platform as a device to cyberbully.

Apps like Whisper, Secret and Ask.fm have closed over the years after developers failed to curb misuse and abuse.

“Online forums can also be exploited by people with other motives and can jeopardize the safety of some vulnerable groups,” says Zehra.

“If they aren’t regulated, don’t have any form of structure and enforcement for users, it can do more harm than good. People can end up feeling more overwhelmed, getting bad messages, and even more confused about how to deal with any security challenges.” mental health” he says.

Confessions around the world

But the trend of confession pages is a global phenomenon that continues to evolve.

On Facebook, there are confession accounts from universities around the world, providing a community for students through moderated pages.

In Hong Kong, there are Instagram accounts such as Sticky_Rice_Love and Couple.Murmur, which provide sex and relationship advice to followers through the confession-response format.

In Pakistan, there is a trend on Twitter known as the “gham hour”, in which users tweet thoughts and emotions after midnight. Although not always anonymous, the comments point to the formation of a shared confessional community.

In South Korea these types of sites are known as “bamboo forests” – this is because of a fable in which a man with a secret about a king failed to keep it to himself and instead shouted to a forest. From then on, the fable tells, whenever the wind blew, the forest repeated the king’s secret.

The pages provided an unexpected community for those sharing secrets — Photo: Getty Images

The benefits of confessing everything

For many people, confessing secrets anonymously can be very therapeutic.

It is estimated that up to 75% of people in low-income countries who are experiencing mental health problems do not have access to mental health professionals, according to the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Gap Action Program ( WHO).

“That means the treatment gap is huge,” says Zehra.

“Unavailability of trained professionals, limited focus on preventive activities, limited range of services to rural and low-income groups, and taboos around mental health are some of the contributing factors.”

Zehra has seen a growing trend of people accessing mental health care, however this tends to occur in urban settings.

While her own experience of providing psychological care is in a professional setting, she says creating a safe space to share secrets is essential for confession pages on the internet.

“Talking about problems can be healing, but sometimes it can also trigger people and bring back negative emotions,” she says.

“It’s important for people to feel safe and build security in the process, to help manage the experience if people become overly anxious or overwhelmed.”

Psychotherapist Angelo Foley, who runs an Instagram account in France called Balance Ta Peur (“expose your fear”, in free translation), goes even further.

He says there is a genuine benefit to both the confessor and the readers who consume these anonymous posts.

“Reading other people’s confessions is like reading a novel,” he says. “We project ourselves into it, we identify ourselves, the stories of others activate our own psychic and emotional process.”

Providing a safe space is essential for confessions, whether in a therapeutic setting or anonymously — Photo: Getty Images

He uses his social media account to anonymously share his collaborators’ deepest fears to 70,000 followers, in the hope that they will feel less alone.

“The page feeds an insatiable curiosity, a voyeurism present in all human beings”, says Angelo. “We like to know what’s going on with others as a survival instinct, to know if we’re on the right or wrong side. I think anonymity gives us the illusion of protection, whether it’s from the judgment of others, or from our loved ones discovering ours. intimate worlds.”

Angelo was the first person to share his fears on Balance Ta Peur, and he believes his training as a psychotherapist has given him the skills to create a safe space for people to confess their secrets.

“Fear is present in all our life experiences, our temporary crises, our traumas, our sufferings, our existential questions”, he says.

“There was no space for us to express these issues. I helped make Instagram something more than a showcase for people’s perfect and fake lives.”

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