This week, The Medium reached out to the students behind UTM’s most popular anonymous social media pages to discuss their experiences running their respective pages, the ethical decisions they have to make regarding submissions, and their thoughts on cyber-bullying and censorship. Pages such as Spotted at UTM, uMentioned UTM, and UTMers were approached.
The latter two page administrators agreed to speak to The Medium but only on the condition of anonymity.
While many may believe that uMentioned UTM is one of a kind, the reality is that there are uMentioned pages at several other campuses. Originally started at Queens University, this popular anonymous social network is dedicated to postsecondary students across Canada and even the U.S.
The uMentioned network consists of a website, a mobile app, and a dedicated Facebook page to each branch. uMentioned has received funding through various sources, including a $25k award through the Canadian Fall 13 Velocity Fund Finals.
When the uMentioned UTM page was founded in 2012, there was only one admin. However, a second admin joined in December 2012. When the first admin chose to step down due to other priorities, the second admin stayed on and has now been responsible for the uMentioned UTM page for almost four years. Today, the Facebook page has 3,525 followers.
“I ended up joining because I was very interested in this phenomenon of social media, especially that it’s anonymous. That was just the spark for me—this is so new. We’re always entering new stages on social media and technology, and in terms of the university’s student market, this was the next big thing,” says the admin.
Examples of the different pages available in this network include uMentioned Western, uMentioned Waterloo, and uMentioned Harvard. Despite UTM being a smaller campus, “[UTM’s] popularity [is] comparable [to larger universities]—that’s interesting to see because, in terms of social media, you would expect the bigger universities to have more presence but we really pushed the UTM page out there,” says the admin.
The pages’ admins have together developed a set of ethical, quality, and professional standards regarding posts and how much time should be dedicated to administration duties. This was to ensure that the page was “well-branded and that [it remained] positive”.
Providing a safe and anonymous atmosphere is a high priority for the page. “You [face] a lot of things like cyber-bullying, negative posts, [or] when students use this [page] to attack other students,” says the admin, adding that it’s challenging when there is only one person managing the page. “There’s a lot of judgement that [the admins] have to make and we really have to decide what’s ethical and what’s not,” the admin adds.
According to uMentioned UTM, in 2013, there was a case of cyber-bullying between two U of T students that was significant enough to reach the U of T administration.
“We had to step in and decide whether we really wanted to breach our confidentiality for the sake of U of T handling this situation between the two students,” says the admin. In this specific case, the name of the student was released, because given the seriousness of the situation, the admins believed it was necessary.
The page receives a variety of submissions, ranging from confessions to jokes, recommendations for “bird” courses, looking for lost items, and promoting events or elections, but not all submissions are posted.
“Unfortunately, people lose things so often on campus that the page cannot turn into UTM lost and found,” says the admin. “There are a lot of posts that I feel are irrelevant to the page, which I filter out.
“We cannot be UTM events and announcements,” adds the admin. “It was challenging for me in terms of conflict of interest. For example, if I’m organising an event on campus and I really want a lot of people to know about it and come, I also know that the best page to post it is my own page. I can just post it—but I never did any of that. I tried to keep my personal life and this social identity separate, but it’s so tempting.”
Regarding UTM’s other anonymous social media pages, the admin has one concern: whether the pages maintain the same level of confidentiality for all submissions. “I’m not sure what is going on behind the scenes,” says the admin. “But [I’m] just hoping for the best.”
After 2013, a lot of the admins behind the uMentioned pages have left their positions, leaving the uMentioned network to be “a bit more scattered” according to the student. uMentioned UTM’s admin did take over a few of the “dead” pages and attempted to keep the confessions going. At one point, the admin was responsible for 10 different college and university anonymous social media pages.
The admin still has access to all of them, but chose to step down about one and a half years ago and now focuses solely on UTM. As for the future of uMentioned UTM, the admin has not made a final decision yet, but believes that following graduation, the page will likely be left behind in order to uphold the original commitment to confidentiality for all previously submitted confessions.
With terms such as marketing and strategy being thrown around, it’s likely that the uMentioned UTM admin may have a commerce background. When asked, the admin laughs and says, “My studies in commerce really helped me in terms of marketing and business strategic approaches—you need to know [that] your market is university students and [face] the challenges of new people coming in and graduating all the time. So how do you grow an online community with a population that is changing 25 percent every year?”
The admin has occasionally added this role in resumes as an “entrepreneurship” project, only for off-campus jobs.
“It’s so hard to hide myself on campus,” says the admin. “I ran in five different elections in the last four years. My pictures are everywhere. […] I try to support a lot of non-profit initiatives on campus so it’s been such a challenge to try and stay quiet.
“It’s not a big deal to me if people find out—I’m not trying to hide it or anything,” the student adds. “If students find out, I hope that they still trust me, in terms of confidentiality. Because trust is the only reason we could have lasted for four years.”
Launched in August 2014, UTMers is an anonymous Facebook social media page with 712 followers that has a combination of humorous posts and posts regarding student politics.
The page is manned by a single admin who wanted to do their part in “increasing school spirit”, commenting that they believe that the page is another “platform to get people to talk together or to just reflect on things that we can all relate to”.
The admin also admits that there is a second reason behind the page: that they “need[ed] something [extra] to do”.
The admin behind UTMers hopes that the page is a combination of “thought-provoking, funny, and worthwhile” posts, noting that “it is a privilege to be on people’s walls”.
To submit an anonymous post to the page, students have two options: to message the page directly (where the admin can see the student’s Facebook profile) or through Google Drive (where the admin can only see the date and time of submission). The page’s content tends to be picture-based, as UTM students already have a lot of readings to do, so the admin wants “to keep the readings short”. However, all bets are off when it’s an important topic, as the admin will “still try to keep it short” but provide all relevant information, too.
While UTMers’ real identity remains a secret to most of the UTM student population, the admin has informed a few friends about this secret in order to keep “[the page] in check […] because when you’re anonymous on the Internet, fully anonymous, you can write some crazy stuff”.
“Though [my friends have] never told me [any] thing about [any] one of my posts [crossing a line], it’s just good to have people know who I am. To keep me balanced in the content,” the student said.
However, when asked about the fact that friends may be less likely to call out the admin on posts that may cross a moral line, UTMers says, “I don’t feel like I need calling out. I’m trying to be as less biased [as possible] but [it’s] impossible to be completely unbiased. But I don’t think that I have anything super wrong with my opinions.”
In fact, several drafts are only published as posts following UTMers’ friends’ approval. “They’ve never told me that anything was too rude but they have told me that some stuff [was] not funny,” says UTMers. “I don’t think that it affects anything if they’re friends. If anything, it’s a more efficient way to keep me in check because they are just free to tell me the truth.”
While UTMers does not receive as much content as popular pages such as Spotted at UTM and uMentioned UTM, both original and submitted posts do not undergo censorship or editing.
However, the admin comments that, for original posts, “I have to take into consideration that people don’t know who I am and so they don’t know that it comes from a good place. So I would have to be careful not to be too sarcastic or too dry in my type of humour.”
For original posts, UTMers has two rules. The first rule is that people are not named. To provide an example, UTMers says, “All my political posts are about the UTMSU—mostly. I will refer to them as VP internal as opposed to the person’s name.”
The second rule is to always cite, which generally involves a link or a screenshot of the source. “[There is] nothing to be disputed. This is what I see. I do add [my] opinion and if I’m really angry, then I’ll probably insult […] the problem,” the admin says, adding that they may do so with “vulgar language”.
As for submissions, while they may be few, UTMers has received “two or three confessions […] that should remain anonymous”. However, the page has not received any “heavy” submissions requiring censorship.
What would happen if UTMers were to receive a confession that was blurring the line between freedom of speech and hate speech?
“I do get offended at some stuff […] but I do not condone censoring people just because they offend me,” says the UTMers admin. “I have a very lax attitude towards ‘offensive’ speech. […] The onus is on the person making the so-called offensive speech to censor themselves. I feel like people should just scroll down if they don’t like something.”
UTMers believes that the matter of hate speech is more objective than people realise.
“It’s actually a black-and-white thing. If something is offensive or hate speech, it’s clear and defined. But if it’s offensive, it’s not necessarily hate speech. I feel like if it’s objectively true, then I will post it. And if it’s just racist or something phobic, then I will not post it,” the admin says.
One key feature of the UTMers page is that the admin constantly comments on student politics—most notably, UTMSU.
“I don’t dislike them personally. I don’t know them personally,” says the admin. “But I dislike their work and to be considered anti-UTMSU is a good thing.”
The UTMers admin believes that most people who work at the UTMSU do so for the good of the UTM student population and that they appreciate and recognize the effort that UTMSU puts in; however, “the final product of their effort is not useful and [does] not match the amount of student fees that we pay”.
The page’s future is not certain yet, but UTMers says, “I will not leave it to die, that’s for sure”. When the admin graduates, the page will either be handed to another UTM student (with all previous confessions being deleted) or turned into a “recent graduate type of page”.
The following are extracts from The Medium’s interviews with UTMers and uMentioned UTM.
All quotes have been edited for clarity and length.
Have you ever been reported by a user or been shut down by Facebook?
UTMers: No. Facebook tells me what post prompts somebody to unlike the page. It’s mostly UTMSU posts. I have been reported for spam once to Facebook because of a UTMSU post. But that’s the only backlash that I have seen. But sometimes people unlike my page for innocuous posts and that’s fine. But I would say that 80 percent of the time, it’s a UTMSU post.
uMentioned UTM: In the beginning, we were a Facebook person profile. People could add us as a friend. Then we maxed out at about 5,000 friends. But around the time we were being maxed out at 5,000 friends, Facebook tried to shut us down because in terms of Facebook’s algorithms, if you befriend or send too many friend requests within a specified period of time, Facebook automatically marks you as spam and tries to find out if you’re a real person or not. You’re technically not allowed to have a Facebook person profile if you’re not a real person. So then, eventually Facebook shut us down. When we tried to talk to them—we tried really hard to negotiate with them—but they wouldn’t agree. So then we had to shut down for about a month. We had to start up with zero friends and as a page.
I face a lot of user complaints—but I try not to take them too personally. Some of them are from people that I personally know so it’s really hard to maintain a barrier and a mask. When I don’t read through posts on a timely basis, people critique me as if I’m not doing enough as an admin, but I’m just volunteering and it’s a free service.
So you mentioned that people have actually worked out your secret. Did your friends work it out too?
uMentioned UTM: My closest friends—they knew from the beginning. But people who just knew who I was on campus found out through a lot of different reasons. Some of them are kind of funny. A few people said that they noticed the tone of my language—I have no idea how they could do that! Some people said that it was the way I was presenting myself on the page—like my tone of words, my choice of words—I have no idea how that happened. Another one that was funny was that I was taking a picture of an animal on campus, and that picture went online five minutes later. Somebody was in the building beside me, near the windows, who saw me taking the picture. They saw that angle of the picture being posted five minutes later—they were like, “Bingo! It’s you.”
Have you felt like your academic performance has been affected by your involvement with your page?
UTMers: A lot of friends ask me if regularly posting things on UTMers has had a negative impact on my GPA or on my studies in general. The answer is that it has had no apparent effect. For example, my sessional GPA last semester was 3.20, but the semester before that was much lower; 2.50.
uMentioned UTM: I do remember that especially in second year, when the page got almost too popular for me to handle, there were a lot of challenges. I think that it did indirectly affect my academic performance, and it was really challenging.
What do you believe are the positives to anonymous posting?
UTMers: Anonymous posting encourages people to be open and honest. It also puts forth the post itself [the information or the picture at hand] and does not reflect on the person behind the post. It’s a good way to emphasize the merit of the post, or the question, or the argument as to who’s behind it. So I think anonymity is a good thing.
uMentioned UTM: I’m surprised that students have posted some very personal things on these pages and they don’t even know who’s behind it. I’m surprised at the number of students who made offline relationships—and again that’s a positive thing, but I was surprised in a good way. Some people have found their girlfriend or boyfriend through uMentioned. In a sense, I also helped as a matchmaker and a friend-finder. But that just makes me really happy.
Has someone ever complimented you through a submission on your page? What did you do/say?
uMentioned UTM: When you get a shout-out, your friends will always comment and tag you. I will comment and pretend like I don’t know what’s going on. Yeah, that has happened a few times. But the content of the post was nothing negative—it was all fun.
So what do you think this page offers to UTM students?
UTMers: Humour. I think it’s funny. I’ve asked a lot of people if it’s funny, because that’s the main thing. Even when I had bad days, I post funny things because we need humour in our lives. I feel like the page is about humour, information, condensed in one post, just like light information—intelligent information but nothing too heavy.
What’s the story behind the deer posts?
uMentioned UTM: I guess a way to describe it is through the phrase “Stop and smell the flowers”. We have such a beautiful campus and I really appreciate it. I want to share that with everyone and people responded really positively to the deer pictures so that was something I really tried to maintain. My computer is filled with all of these deer pictures from all four seasons of the year, all different places on campus, doing the most funny and ridiculous things. I always have my phone in my hand. I try to keep that as a branding to the page. I still get excited whenever I see deer. I’ve caught them kissing, jumping on trees, eating apples, real close-ups of them. That’s something I really treasured about the page.
So occasionally pages like these become hubs for cyberbullying, hate speech, anonymous attacks, and so on. What are your thoughts on this?
UTMers: I have criticized people in particular without naming them, but for some posts, it’s obvious who I’m talking about. I wouldn’t say that I regret those posts because I try to target the problem and the respective people’s lack of good work, and so it is insinuated I am talking about a specific person. I try not to do that but sometimes I have to. So, I wouldn’t consider it to be cyberbullying because I’m not a bully just like in general. That could be interpreted as that though and I understand that. But I feel like it’s the responsibility of the people running for these positions to assume that they’re open for criticism.
Do you want to share a hint about your real identity?
uMentioned UTM: I think for people who really wanted to know, there’s enough information for them to have a pretty good guess. For students who are still wondering, I feel like everyone has seen me! Well, I’m in fourth year. I’m graduating; I have to leave the page behind. I’m a girl. I think everyone knows I’m in commerce; there have been some posts that are commerce-oriented.
So do the good experiences outweigh the bad?
UTMers: Yes, I feel like there is no bad. There are issues but they are very minor. I think that if every student had their own page that would be great. Because everyone has a way of experiencing UTM and if they create a page on how they experience it, then it does so much for the school spirit. You see the commonality between us.
uMentioned UTM: Definitely. I really try to treasure the good experiences as well—and in terms of the bad experiences, I go by the moral of not taking it personally and keep reminding myself that to some students, this is an anonymous page that’s supposed to do me a service of posting my post. That’s what students see; they don’t see it as a student who needs to study and do their own stuff. I really need to remind myself that and learn not to take things too personally. It’s challenging, but it’s really taught me a lot over the past few years.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.