Madison Fernandez, ‘17
Many students find social media to be an outlet for relaxation or procrastination. Some may think it’s a safe haven away from the drama of “real world” and face-to-face interaction, but what happens when posts on Facebook turn out to be more serious than game requests and copy-and-paste statuses? In an attempt to connect school life to the internet, “confessions” groups have been a trend where mostly high school students post anonymous messages about other students, faculty, and their schools in general.
A page called “BHSEC Confessions” was created in November, and became a forum where BHSEC students harshly took advantage of the page’s anonymity. Although the page was eventually taken down, many students either saw or participated in these cruel posts dealing with bullying, sexual innuendo, and suicidal messages. As a community, we had to learn how to deal with these brutal messages and how to prevent them from happening again.
The concept seemed simple enough: post anything you want about anybody you want anonymously, it gets posted for everyone in the group to see, and no one knows it’s you. Unfortunately, that was the very problem. Submitting posts through ask.fm, an anonymous question-and-answer website, secures the privacy of the sender, but not the privacy of the post’s subject. “BHSEC Confessions” surfaced around Facebook for a little over a month, in the beginning of November. It originally started with playful messages about students written by friends. Within days, the jaunty behavior took a turn for the worse.
“At first it was lighthearted, then it got mean with rumors and rude comments,” explained Lily Gordon, a freshman who saw the page. Within days before the page was shut down, an influx of suicidal messages were posted with less than helpful comments from students who didn’t know how to deal with them. The page was primarily visited by ninth graders and was “apparently set up by a 9th grade student,” according to an email sent by Dr. Lerner the night before Thanksgiving break. In this email, freshmen were told to gather for a Town Hall addressing the problems of this page.
Although this was not the first time a page like this was made, a Town Hall was necessary to explain to freshmen not only the seriousness of suicide, but the risks of not monitoring oneself on social media – which can lead to possible suspension or expulsion, and can affect college admissions decisions. The Samaritans, a suicide prevention team, came in to discuss the situation with the 9th grade.
“You don’t want these messages to be happening while it’s not being moderated by an adult,” said Dr. Lerner. When he first saw the page, he was dismayed and upset by the behavior of BHSEC students online. “It’s like people change. They just type before they think,” he added. Many of the students shared similar feelings; they were uncomfortable simply seeing the page on their Facebook newsfeeds. There was an all-over relief when the page was taken down.
In fact, students on the page didn’t know how to handle the messages. As freshman Dewan Hassan said, “We were unable to stand up to those who bullied others, and we didn’t want to make it a serious issue although it already was.” A representative from The Samaritans explained signs of suicide in others, the group in which suicides are most apparent, and what to do when a friend or family member threatens to commit suicide.
Although the 9th grade found the Town Hall helpful in some aspects, they didn’t think it directly correlated to the situation at hand. “All we did at the assembly was talk about what to do if someone we know wants to commit suicide; very basic information was provided…people who actually do want to commit suicide were not addressed at all. It was a jumble of considerably useless statistics, in the sense that they barely had anything to do with us, therefore not really impacting us that much, and did not help in my opinion,” said Britney Franco, a freshman.
Others felt as if the talk on bullying, which was only for a small portion of the assembly before The Samaritans spoke, should have been more involved. They thought that it should have been discussed why bullying is dangerous for the victims and why it’s wrong, and how the victims should respond. Zoe Fruchter, another freshman, believed that discussions related to suicide and other social issues should occur independently of a page; discussion of the page and the consequences should be its own assembly. Dr. Lerner explained that the Town Hall didn’t focus on bullying because although it is an unfortunate circumstance, it could be dealt with on an individual level, between the bully and the victim. Suicide prevention is something that every student needed to know, he indicated. Yet while students realized the necessity of suicide prevention, many felt as if it overshadowed the barbaric nature of the page. Ultimately, despite the negativity of “BHSEC Confessions,” this situation taught students how to make our community stronger and more supportive. “I think it taught us how fractured our community is,” said Britney Franco. Lily Gordon added, “We learned that we really have people in the school to turn to for help.” The 9th graders learned a valuable lesson on controlling themselves on social media, as well as how to handle serious issues they come up online. Dr. Lerner advised, “We’re trying to educate students about how to behave online,” and not to start another “confessions” page, because there is no need for it.
If you ever feel threatened, stressed, or under any other sort of strain, make sure to contact a trusted person or call the Samaritans suicide hotline at (212)-673-3000, rather than reaching out anonymously over the internet. Face-to-face communication can save a life.