JSC Confessions raises anonymity concerns

JSC Confessions joined the Facebook world April 4, over Spring Break. The page has captured the attention of 629 Facebook users as of April 25 and is past 1200 posts in just four weeks.

According to the page, students, parents, alum ni, professors and anyone who has access to Facebook can anonymously post anything they like, with the exception of mentioning names in a negative context. However, comments to posts, and liking a post, are not anonymous. Posts are also numbered when they appear on the page.

The creator of the page says it was made in the wake of other, similar collegiate confession pages like St. Michael’s and UVM. The host said, “I started this page because I saw similar pages for other colleges. I thought it would be a cool thing to have because sometimes we have things that burden us and we don’t know how to share it with the world.”

This page certainly fulfills that niche on the JSC campus.

Confessions range from sexual debacles like the following post: JSC Confession 812: I frequently stole my roommate’s conditioner to jerk off in the dorm showers…feeling guilty never felt so good, to crazy drug stories like: JSC Confession 268: Before my friends and I go to a party, we play Viagra Roulette. We put Viagra in one of our drinks, mix them around so we don’t know where the Viagra is, then we randomly pick a drink and down it, to actual confessions of misdeeds such as JSC Confession 209: I stole the old JSC sign over three years ago. I still have it.

Many people are not fans of the content cropping up on JSC Confessions. Director of Communications Deb Bouton is one of them. She also was surprised to learn that the unauthorized page had borrowed JSC’s logo. “You can do anything you want out there these days,” said Bouton with slight sarcasm. “The only thing you can’t do is infringe on copyright. They (Facebook) have their very limited policy. So, the fact that they were using the logo, we’ve contacted them. They’ve removed it.”

According to Bouton, Web and Digital Communications Manager Melissa Weinstein contacted the page’s administrator for help reaching those who are themselves reaching out to others for help. “There was some pretty disturbing posts on there,” said Bouton. “Cries for help, you know, self-harm. [Melissa Weinstein] asked the manager…if anything ever comes on that indicates somebody’s threatening harm to please notify Public Safety, and the person responded they would certainly do that.”

Bouton pointed out that just because someone says their page is anonymous, doesn’t mean it is. “[If] you submit a comment, you’ve got a web address,” said Bouton. While stressing that she isn’t a lawyer, Bouton theorized that the FBI or police could possibly gain access to the web addresses associated with posts by attaining a search warrant or through similar legal means if they had sufficient reasons.

Bouton, while not a fan of the tone she has seen on the page so far, is a fan of the First Amendment. “Freedom of speech…,” said Bouton. “People can go out there and make idiots of themselves however they want. I mean really, that’s what it comes down to, right?”

While investigating the fire that was set in Senators Hall last week, it was brought to the attention of Public Safety that someone had actually confessed to the crime through the smokescreen of the JSC Confessions page. Thus far, Public Safety has not been able to connect a name to the post, but it has been forwarded to the Lamoille County Sheriff’s department for further investigation.

“I don’t know if [the Sheriff’s department] can obtain the identity of who posted it, because I do believe that it is anonymous,” says Palagonia. “In this day and age, there probably is no such thing as complete, 100 percent, anonymity, so I’m sure with enough time and resources you could figure out where the posting came from, I don’t know for sure.”

Palagonia hopes that whoever made that post, if they truly did set the fire, will come forward and pay the $100 fine, and also says that there are many other concerning posts on the site which he hopes people will come forward, and talk about. Palagonia also does not give much credence to anything posted on that site, because there have been posts made regarding his office that he knows to be false.

“Certainly, when people are confessing to a crime, it would be nice if there was an actual face to that, an actual name rather,” he says. “I understand other colleges like UVM have similar sites that have started, and they’re not condoned by the college, and not run by the college. I guess freedom of speech protects that. I am concerned about the future. If people are going to confess all of the crimes they committed, bragging about them anonymously. In that case something is going to have to happen.”