Teen confession sites: What they are and what parents can do about them
posted by: Guest Blogger
Last week my husband stumbled on a Twitter account that shared “compliments” about local high school students. While many of the Tweets were harmless – “The juniors have the hottest guys” or “Kelly is the sweetest girl I know” – frequently, they veered into more explicit territory, commenting on students’ sexual prowess and worse. Some posts were anonymous; others included Twitter handles or the students’ full names.
Then we found another account, this one sharing anonymous “confessions” (many appear to be rumors) from area students. Most of the posts involve drug abuse and casual sex. Many include first and last names and/or the name of the school the “confession” originated from. Few are fit to be reprinted here.
Reading through these was enough to make me want to ban both of my girls from the Internet and social media until they’ve graduated from college.
After the local paper reported on the confessions account, I checked in with Google to see if this was just a local phenomenon. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Google “Twitter high school confessions” and you’ll get pages and pages of high school confessions accounts and news stories like this one from across the country reporting on this new brand of over sharing and cyber bullying.
Posts range from tame: “Happy Easter!” To wistful: “I regret not kissing you.” To desperate: “No one sees the scars or cuts on my legs.”
But sex seems to be the most popular subject matter – especially the sex other people may or may not be having.
There’s even an account with more than 21,000 followers that curates the best student confessions from around the U.S.
Confessions are collected in a variety of ways – I found accounts using Twitter’s direct messaging, posting a phone number for people to text to, and using third-party services like Survey Monkey, Google Docs or Ask.fm.
And Twitter isn’t the only place you’ll find these types of posts; teens have taken to Tumblr and Facebook too, creating pages with their school’s name (but often denying any affiliation with the school).
While the content is shocking and inappropriate, Erin Hollenbaugh, an assistant professor of communication studies at Kent State University at Stark told CantonRep.com that using social media in this way can be cathartic for teens.
“Twitter is like a big bathroom stall,” she said. “Teenagers have always done this sort of thing. Human nature is not necessarily different just because the avenues have changed. There are so many avenues now for people to gossip.”
Plus, if it’s any consolation, the accounts don’t appear to have very long lifespans – many have been around for less than a year and are only active for a few months at a time.
What you can do about it
You might not be able to stop your kid or other kids from writing on a digital bathroom stall, but if you’re worried about your child, you can be proactive about following them on Twitter and searching for mentions of their full name or username. In addition, you can try searching for “confessions” or “compliments” accounts linked to the school or school district your child attends.
There are several actions you can take if you or your child is on the receiving end of inappropriate or unwanted Tweets.
Twitter offers several suggestions for dealing with online abuse including unfollowing and blocking the user. If you continue receiving unwanted @replies, Twitter recommends reporting the abusive user if they are posting private information, being abusive or sending violent threats.
If the abuse goes beyond name-calling and you feel there is danger of a physical threat, Twitter recommends alerting local law enforcement about the harassing behavior. Be sure to document all interactions either with screenshots or print-outs, be specific about why you’re concerned, and offer authorities any insight you have as to who is involved – including any evidence of abusive behavior you’ve found on other sites – and share any previous threats you’ve received.
Check out Twitter’s ”Safety & Security” page for more ideas on how to protect yourself and address concerns you might have for content you’ve found on the site.
While unwelcome Tweets aren’t typically grounds for criminal charges, police would be interested if there’s a threat made to a school or individual. If you want to pursue legal action, defamation lawsuits from Tweets are on the rise around the world. The legal help site Nolo offers a helpful article on social media and online defamation to help you decide whether the content that was shared was worth pursuing legal action.
Finally, there are several resources available for addressing cyber bullying including the National Crime Prevention Council, Cyberbullying Research Center, StopBullying.gov and ConnectSafely.org.
By the time my girls are old enough to be using social media, I imagine the proverbial bathroom stall will have transformed again. And in the probable event that I’m unable to ban them from the Internet, I guess the best I can do is teach them to respect themselves and respect others before writing their own confessions.