'Secret Admirer' or cyber bully?
Since the birth of social media on the Internet, the ability to remain almost completely anonymous has been a blessing and a curse. Users of social media can chat and flirt but they can also bully and harass.
A recent trend in social media is to create "Secret Admirer" groups based around college campuses. These groups exist, in theory, to send anonymous messages to crushes.
Since "Kirkwood Secret Admirer" was founded on March 28, over 1,600 Facebook members have liked the page and nearly 400 secret messages have been posted.
However, despite being devoted to secret crushes, many of the messages posted on the Kirkwood page have been overtly sexual, inappropriate, spiteful or unabashedly mean. Students have sent in submissions harassing specific students or groups about sexual matters, weight or even something as seemingly innocuous as vehicle choice.
This is simply part of the larger trend of anonymity leading to bullying behavior online. When faced with the ability to make remarks without personal accountability, it is far too easy for the content to shift from innocent flirtation into targeted harassment through overtly sexualized and mean-spirited comments. It is hard to imagine these comments would ever be made with names attached.
While the concept of an anonymous outlet to confess to a crush may be appealing, the Facebook page's purpose seems to encourage confessions of secrets and complaints, instead of light-hearted praise. The very anonymous nature of the page brings out the worst in people, turning ordinary students into cowards and bullies.
Even in its best form, the group still poses certain uncomfortable social truths. While a secret admirer can be flattering, the messages are not private.
Sharing a "secret" admiration with more than 1,600 fellow students is an awkward blend of highly private and extremely public. This creates a social dynamic where not only the admired but the admired's friends, acquaintances and complete strangers are aware of the admirer's feelings.
The comments can also appear less as sweet and more as borderline stalking as posts mention watching students in their vehicles or getting their mail.
Despite the questionable nature of the posts, the anonymous administrator of the page suggested on April 8 that "it's just a bit of fun here guys."
Fun seems an unusual choice of wording for a secret admirer page that has reposted threats to others, accusations of STDs and encouragement of perversion. The students on the receiving end of threats and harassment on a public stage would not likely call the experience fun.
While the page's purpose may have originally been light-hearted fun, the bullying that has taken its place is anything but. By allowing vicious content, the site's creators are enabling cyber bullying.
Instead of hiding behind the safety of a computer screen, students with a secret crush should consider making a bold move in today's social media obsessed society and approach their crush in the real world. Being up front and honest is far more attractive than a sequential number and a misspelled superficial statement.
It is sad that more than 300 students have felt more comfortable behind the shady mask of the Internet than taking the time to speak to a human being.
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