Colleges crack down on Facebook pages that were set up for fun but have emerged as hubs of abuse

It looks like the ‘fun’ is finally over. Colleges have started cracking down on the Facebook confessions and proposals pages created by their students in the light of complaints from parents and fellow students. Many students, especially girls, feel the content in these pages, posted by anonymous users, is disturbing and demeaning.

The proposals pages are full of posts about the feelings that students have for their fellows, crushes and unrequited love. The identity of the students posting these declarations is anonymous. However, noted Shankari, a student of a private engineering college, the subjects of these posts are most often easily identifiable. “For instance, talking about the tallest girl in chemical engineering or the girl from Tambaram who drives a pink Scooty or the bespectacled girl in mechanical engineering does not leave much unclear. The intention is to make the subject uncomfortable.” Sarlaksha, a student of Jeppiar Institute of Technology, agreed. “It is only the boys who have all the fun,” she said.

Many of these posts are derogatory too, felt students. “The fat girl from the computer science department or the s*** from civil engineering, or the girl from sociology who changes her boyfriend every week — posts such as these are full of vicious gossip, mindless teasing, and descend to the depths of vulgarity. Incidentally, both the subjects of such posts and even some who feel they are being ignored tend to get depressed,” said Asha Mathew, a student of an engineering college in Tambaram. Asha and 70 other female students recently gave a letter to their college principal demanding a check on the posts.

An official from Sathyabama University said counsellors and teachers have been asked to find out the details of students running such pages and warn them against putting up inappropriate content.

The principal of a private engineering college said he had recently addressed students on this issue. “In a recent meeting, parents told us they were worried about the safety of their children, particularly in the context of confessions and proposals pages. It was then that we decided to ask students to take the pages off,” he said.

Besides confessions and proposals pages, many colleges have separate pages wherein users can post ‘event related news.’

“Who was seen with whom during cultural fests and tech fests is a subject of discussion. Sometimes, even pictures are posted. It has become a threat page — many of my friends deleted their Facebook accounts because they feared someone would tag them,” said Abhirami Suri, a student.

“There are references to the way you eat chicken, the clothes you wear, and how often you wear the same clothes. These can be disturbing at different levels,” she added.

A student-administrator of the proposals page of a college said he started the page after similar pages were set up in other institutions. “The page was so popular that we used to get over 300 posts every day. We started moderating it after some posts became very vulgar. Now, we get 100 posts every day, of which 20 can be posted.”

“Some colleges have more than one proposals page and some of these are not even moderated. Many posts are taken out only after they are reported as abusive. The saddest part is that the four administrators of the proposals page of our college all passed out long ago,” a student said.

While many colleges, especially the engineering ones, have strictly asked the students to take off the pages, some are trying to talk to them.

However, some of these attempts are clearly going the wrong way. “Often, since it is difficult to identify the people who run the page or post the comments, they focus on identifying the subjects of the posts. In most colleges, teachers mark our internals and we fear they will have a bad impression of us, because a stupid post named us,” said P. Meenakshi, a student.

Counsellor Archana Paneerselvam said the posts can be emotionally damaging to first-year students, particularly. “For them, it is often a time of discovering themselves and forging new bonds. Arbitrary posts with demeaning content threaten relationships.”

“Also, there is no way of verifying the authenticity of the posts, she added. And most often, when intricate details of your life are spilled out, you start suspecting your own friends. Posts, especially those that are suggestive or even a little vulgar, cannot be taken sportingly,” she added

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