ANU students have had a difficult time over the last few years, starting in 2020 with COVID-19. Many students have faced, and continue to face, a lack of support and understanding from the University, especially when it comes to financial or mental health issues. One place that has created an online haven for students, bringing everyone together, is ANU Confessions. ANU Confessions is a Facebook page, where students can send in anonymous confessions about anything on their mind. Some are weird, discussing the bathrooms at colleges on campus. Some are political, like the ongoing annoyance of Socialist Alternative cornering people on campus. Some are rants about the current state of university life, and how lecturers continue to have little to no experience teaching students. My favourite ones are the debates though, the month-long conversations about privilege, race and currently, the referendum coming up in October. ANU Confessions has and will continue to create a space for students to come together, express themselves in a safe environment, and allow people to not feel so alone in the university experience. So, I decided to ask the previous admin of ANU Confessions a few questions about their time in charge of the page.
Q: Firstly: how and why did you decide to become an ANU Confessions admin?
A: Ultimately, I was in the right place at the right time. Back in 2020 the old ANU Confessions page collapsed after a big controversy and sat empty for months until I started this page back in August 2020.
Interviewer’s note: the controversy they describe is about slurs that were published onto the ANU Confessions page, creating an uproar which ultimately led it to be shut down.
A (cont.): Nobody else wanted to touch the page, the brand was “too toxic” for a lot of people. Despite all this, I saw a lot of potential in the idea of a Confessions page. As we were all locked inside due to COVID-19, there was this noticeable demand by other students for a subcultural space where they can express their thoughts about life as a uni student. A place to share some funny stories about themselves or things they wish would happen to them like a secret admiration. A platform to vent their frustrations about the University, not just for the sake of complaining, but to feel validated that they’re not alone in feeling this way. A place to confess their thoughts and feelings without the fear of retaliation by the university if they say the wrong thing. I saw a lot of potential in ANU Confessions and at the time, I felt like I was the only person willing to take on that role and put in the much-needed work to try and turn its reputation around and give the name ‘ANU Confessions’ a new lease in (sic) life as something more palatable to the ANU student mainstream.
I was also an admin for another ANU page during this time. I had some background knowledge and skills on how to run an anonymity-based Facebook page. It helped me set up the new ANU Confessions and helped prepare me for some of the challenges ahead. I was also stuck in a hospital bed at the time with nothing better to do for weeks, I had plenty of time on my hands to start the page and give it a lot of attention and care.
Q: What confession made you rethink your role?
A: During the honeymoon period I naïvely thought being an Admin would be fairly easy. I allowed a lot of content through moderation without putting too much thought into it. I thought “as long as I didn’t repeat the mistakes of the old page, I should be fine.”’ There were no rules back then, content warnings were not mandatory. That started to change during the summer of 2021, after the page received a lot of mental health related submissions. Submissions about self-harm and suicidal intentions. I couldn’t sleep for days because of the anxiety and fear I had, knowing that someone out there was in danger and I couldn’t do anything about it. I once called the ANU crisis line about it, but as soon as I told them how I knew this information, the tone in their voice changed as they wanted nothing to do with me, basically telling me to go away. That summer was the beginning of my metaphorical baptism of fire. It was when “shit got real.”. It’s the reason why the page switched from CrushNinja to UniTruths, in order to flag content and create automated messages like directing people to support services and messaging users who typed certain keywords. It also set the stage for the creation of page protocols as a premeditated course of action for myself to take in the event of certain uncomfortable situations. These protocols soon proved to be necessary when the page started to receive posts about sexual assault, sexual harassment, accusations, mental health, suicide notes etc.
I was forced to rethink my role when I learnt that the page was having real life repercussions. Some of the posts that I allow through moderation affect the lives and wellbeing of others, especially student volunteers in student leadership positions. It’s something that I’ve seen first-hand as a student leader in my own hall, witnessing the effect that it had on others and how it puts off a lot of students from even applying for leadership positions, due to how much heat a leadership position can attract on Confessions. It’s the main reason why there’s a cooldown rule on Confessions, it’s to allow club/society/hall leaderships some breathing space to acknowledge and rectify community complaints and criticism without the excessive dogpiling of posts, airing out dirty laundry. While no club/society/hall is immune to criticism, it doesn’t mean that they should face the full wrath of ANU Confessions for weeks on end – there had to be a limit.
Q: What are your least favourite discussions on the page?
A: Political and social issues are without a doubt my least favourite discussions. While it isn’t the primary cause of a lot of Facebook-related headaches, it’s by far the #1 most frustrating to deal with when it comes to the ANU community, as a lot of opinionated users feel justified to harass and abuse me in DMs over what they perceive as bias or neglect.
My recent decision to allow posts regarding the Voice referendum is a perfect example; I sought consultation first because of previous criticism by a former BIPOC Department Officer that the page doesn’t consult with autonomous student departments before making decisions regarding topics that will be discussed in a non-autonomous space. After consulting with the Indigenous Department who expressed no objection to my plans, I allowed referendum posts past moderation. I reaffirmed the page’s position as politically neutral and impartial. However, I’m still accused of political bias, manipulation, foul play, censorship, false balance, being morally flexible and other nonsense. I was even accused by a certain chronic commenter of perpetrating colonisation and depriving First Nations people of autonomy for simply allowing users to talk about the referendum on Confessions. As you can imagine, it gets quite frustrating when I’m trying to be as fair as possible. The problem is, everyone has their own different interpretation and definition of what ‘fair’ means. From personal experience as the Admin of both University of Canberra and ANU Confessions, ANU students can be particularly cruel.
Q: What confession made you enjoy your role?
It’s difficult to narrow it down to a single confession. I really enjoyed seeing things like the ChocSoc and Taylor Swift Society pop-up after someone made a post on Confessions to garner enough interest for those societies to exist. I actually follow those pages as ANU Confessions to check-up on how they’re going and to remind myself of some of the good that comes out of ANU Confessions. Another great thing that’s happened (more than a couple times) is when confessions made by students to compliment others and crush posts that eventually turn into real relationships. Over the Christmas break I received a heartfelt thank you from someone who I helped with publishing their crush posts. I still think about them every now and then, wondering how they’re all going.
The top 5 confessions on the hall of Fame are also brilliant confessions that I enjoyed too. It’s nice for students to express a healthy sense of humour here without everything being too serious all the time.
Q: Why did you decide to give up ANU confessions?
I’ve been an ANU Confessions admin for three years now. If you include all my other pages, it’s nearly five years in total, maybe a little longer if you count UC Confessions separately. It’s a bloody long time to be an Admin, longer than I originally expected. In total, that’s around 25,000 posts.
It’s been a wild journey, and I’m beginning to show some wear and tear. I’m not up to my full game anymore and I’ve become too desensitised to a lot of the shock and offence from submissions. Desensitisation is a dangerous thing for an admin. Over the years, it’s become progressively harder and harder for me to moderate the page. I’m exhausted and I think that it’s time for me to part ways and hand over the page to a new set of hands with fresh eyes and new ideas. It’s time for me to go.
I hope that my legacy as an Admin will be something that I can look back on and genuinely be proud of. A story of how I single handedly rebuilt the ANU Confessions name from the ashes and defied all odds and expectations from those who doubted its place in our student culture. And to think that it all started when I was in a hospital bed, saving myself from boredom and post-op depression.
Q: Finally, I asked them: How did it feel to contribute so greatly to the ANU experience?
A: That question still intimidates me. I tend to greatly underestimate just how much of an impact my page has had on the ANU Community and experience. Throughout my time on ANU Confessions, I’ve been interviewed by ANU Observer, ABC Canberra radio and now Woroni about my influence and impact on the ANU culture and student experience.
Looking back, I feel tremendously proud of the work that I’ve done and despite some of the negatives, there’s been a lot of good that has come from the page. While I’ll probably never reveal my identity publicly, I’ve played a greater role in the community than I could’ve possibly imagined.
I want to end this article by thanking the previous ANU Confessions admin for all the work they have done in the past few years, I and many other students wouldn’t have made it through an isolating pandemic without that community. This role can be difficult, and is time-consuming yet rewarding at the same time. I know in years after I graduate and move on from Canberra, that I will never forget the confessions I have enjoyed and the community it fostered. I believe it is important to keep having these conversations and I encourage everyone to share on the platform. Because spaces like this are integral so that we never feel alone.
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and emerging. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.