On Feb. 18, St. Thomas students stopped wondering about what their peers’ dirty secrets were and started reading about them.
The University of St. Thomas Confessions Facebook page went viral within a week of being launched, tallying 152 Facebook “likes” in just 24 hours. The Facebook page and Twitter profile allow students to post almost anything anonymously.
Who the creator behind this viral social media buzz is has generated the bulk of speculation amongst members of the St. Thomas community.
Freshman Lydia Swanson scrolls through the University of St. Thomas Confessions Facebook page. The page lets students anonymously post confessions. (Zach Zumbusch/TommieMedia)
The page’s creator, sophomore Joseph LaBarre, first heard about the “Confessions” concept from a friend.
“I was in Chicago… and stayed with some friends out there from DePaul, and they had a confessions page,” LaBarre said. “I thought it was hilarious, and I saw we didn’t have one.”
Students can share their secrets while keeping their identity protected, but some students’ names have appeared on the page without their consent.
Freshman Lydia Swanson had a post written about her on the page and said she has mixed feelings about it.
“The first moment that I saw I had a confession about me, I was pretty excited. But, the more and more I thought about it, the worse I felt,” Swanson said. “Everyone now can look me up on Facebook to see who Lydia Swanson is, and people now may have an impression about me without ever meeting me.”
Just days after its creation, the university caught wind of the page and its content.
“We have a group that works on social media from a university standpoint, so usually one of us finds out about it,” Peter Breuch, director of communication services, said. “It might just be through a Google search, or it might be through someone who has a student here at St. Thomas. It percolates up.”
The posts that go on the Facebook page are submitted through an anonymous online survey, so they don’t reflect on the individual students. However, Breuch said that as a whole, the page reflects on the St. Thomas student body.
“I hope that people who are posting realize what it does to the image of St. Thomas,” Breuch said. “I also think it reflects on the students who choose to make those postings, whether they are real confessions or whether they are made up confessions.”
LaBarre said he wants to see how St. Thomas compares to other schools with confessions pages like the University of Wisconsin-Stout or the University of Minnesota.
“My goal was to give people a place to share all those crazy stories that they have and only their closest friends know,” LaBarre said.
The university is not concerned about the page as long as there is no threat or trademark issues.
“We can’t (take the page down). It’s an anonymous owner. We went through this before with a Twitter feed which identified itself as being apart of the university,” Breuch said. “The decision was made to be aware of it and just to watch it. If anything turned liable as sort of really problematic or threatening then we would step in.”
LaBarre said he heard from administration regarding the cover photo on the Facebook page because it displayed St. Thomas’ intellectual property.
“I am a little nervous that the university will frown upon the page and the image that it may be giving the university,” LaBarre said. “I have gotten numerous confessions from incoming freshman about how after reading this page they are excited to attend in the fall.”
LaBarre said he reads, filters and selects which posts make it to the page.
“Any posts that may be attacking or hurtful to an individual or group does not get posted,” LaBarre said. “This is not a bullying page. I also try to filter out the stories that are obviously not true.”
Running such a popular page has become a big time commitment for LaBarre. He said he gets between 150-200 posts per day, and he spends a few hours daily maintaining the site.
“This is a little more than what I expected. I did not expect the massive amount of confessions that came in within the first few days,” LaBarre said.
Swanson said the page may be humorous and entertaining, but the validity of the posts can be harmful to students.
“I think it has a bad rep for St. Thomas,” Swanson said. “More than 70 percent of the posts I see daily are very inappropriate and not something that people want to see.
Swanson said the entertainment for students has consequences.
“Most people take it as a joke, but it isn’t a good image for St. Thomas,” Swanson said. “Incoming students could look at this page and be swayed to another school because of the things said on it.”
Zach Zumbusch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.