The internet as confessional: anonymity and community

PostSecret helps people confess their sins

PostSecret helps people confess their sins

I have been thinking a lot about community lately, as I have found myself in a lovely bubble of Twitter camaraderie, and like Rachel Reuban, I wish I lived in a Twitter world too, where everyone is as nice to each other in real life as they are on Twitter.

Social media sharing is spilling into “real life” is hot news with 11% of adults in the US updating their “statuses” via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (wonder what the statistic is in Australia?) and everyone is getting comfortable with the “overshare” of what they are doing right now/what they are working on now/just doing.

So why is it still so popular being anonymous and pour your heart out online? I have been following 2 anonymous Twitter confessionals SecretTweet and F*** My Life. Both have corresponding websites, and the Twitter accounts feed the wonderful, painful, funny and tell-it-like-it-is truths that are posted anonymously by the thousands of  users.

PostSecret is likely to be the original inspiration described by founder Frank Warren as cathartic.

“It’s kind of like radical intimacy,” Warren said in a phone interview. “It’s blurring the lines between strangers and intimate strangers. I’ve tried to create this safe, non-judgmental place where people have tried to show their hidden selves in a way that hopefully allows them to feel a sense of catharsis.

Warren created the site in 2004 – 200,000 secrets later, today its ranked 14 on Technorati and promotes the idea of the internet facilitating the confessional. Although PostSecret confessors use snail mail to get their confessional radical intimacy off their chests on to the site and then out to the wider population, there is a huge following of PostSecret and the original blog has inspired an entire community with books, events, chat and video. PostSecret also has a bunch of success stories, where the anonymous posts have helped bring couples together, resolved issues, healed wounds. There is an overall message of hope and redemption in amongst the despairing and the tragic.

For those who need to share their day-to-day unfortunate moments and other funny “fail” stories, the anonymous confessional is taken to a new level of short and judgmental at the Fxxx My Life website. It includes a comment stream and people can rate and “judge” the confessions, as “I agree, your life is fxxxd” or “you deserved that one”. Overall, the feeling is light and funny, and similar to PostSecret with the ratings/comments added.

The most raw and real of all of the “internet as confessional” sites is SecretTweet – anonymous tweets submitted to the site then get tweeted through the SecretTweet account. They are so brutally frank, sometimes tragic, sometime funny – in all the light frothiness of Twitter, it serves as a wakeup call of the universal nature of humanity.

Mark Pollard presented and blogged about anonymity being the antithesis of community. What I find intriguing with PostSecret, Fxxx My LifeSecretTweet and other sites based on anonymous sharing, is that community even springs up around anonymity, as we are drawn into the human condition played out in strangers’ confessions. It’s a radical intimacy probably more profound than the old school Catholic confessional, because the those who read and comment become participants in the witnessing and ultimately help the confessor find inner peace, as well as discover their common humanity.

Do you use any of your social networks as a confessional? Ever posted a confession anonymously? Feel free to “overshare” and place a comment.

  • Mark Pollard

    Great post, Tip. I’m still on the fence about anonymous communities because having people submit something to a website doesn’t – in my opinion – necessarily mean that that group of people is an active community. But, again, it all comes down to definitions, semantics. Great examples though.