Thunder Bay

School board wants Facebook 'confessions' pages gone

The Lakehead District Public School Board wants Facebook to take down the anonymous confession pages used by its students.

Social media expert says schools should focus on educating students about appropriate posts

School officials in Thunder Bay have asked Facebook to take down tell-all confessions pages. (Facebook)

The Lakehead District Public School Board wants Facebook to take down the anonymous confession pages used by its students.

A spokesperson told CBC News that on Monday, the board used Facebook's online reporting process to submit complaints about the confession sites for students at Hammarskjold High School, Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute, Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute and Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute.

Communications director Bruce Nugent said the board has asked Facebook to review the pages and remove them.

Since the confession sites that promise anonymity first appeared on Saturday, students have posted everything from tales of drinking and drug abuse to comments about teachers.

Nugent said the board believes the posts could be harmful to students, teachers and staff, and added there's no way to tell if allegations are true — or not — because they are posted anonymously.

Pages can easily be replaced

Anatoliy Gruzd, director of the Social Media Lab at Dalhousie University, said Facebook uses two independent reviewers to evaluate whether or not a complaint about content is warranted.

"Essentially, Facebook will promise to remove things that violate their terms of service," he said. "Things like pornography, hate speech, threats ... graphic violence, bullying and spam."

But Gruzd pointed out that, even if Facebook agrees to remove the confession sites, students could easily replace them.

Facebook's official response:

"Our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities prohibits the posting of content that bullies or harasses. We maintain a robust reporting infrastructure to keep an eye out for offensive or potentially dangerous content. This reporting infrastructure includes a trained team of reviewers who respond to reports and escalate them to law enforcement as needed."

"You can just create a new page with a new name," he said, adding that people can also turn to other social media sites like Twitter.

Gruzd said schools concerned about anonymous student confession pages — a trend that has emerged worldwide over the last few months around the world — need to take a broader view. 

"The solution shouldn't be just blocking content," he said. "It should be a complex solution involved in educating social media users about what's appropriate, as opposed to what's not."

Popularity has 'exploded'

The anonymous Facebook student confession pages first appeared in Thunder Bay last week at Lakehead University.

"It's a pretty big thing here on campus," said Lakehead University Student Union president Emma Brightwell.

"Everywhere you walk, everybody throughout the halls [says] 'Oh did you hear about that confession? Did you see confession number, you know, 90?’ It's exploded."

For the most part, she said, the confessions seem to be humorous and harmless.

But the student union is concerned about posts concerning destruction of property or people hurting themselves or others.

"We only hope that, if something serious were to come up, administrators of the site would notice that and they would bring it up to ... the appropriate people," Brightwell said.

"So if something was serious enough it could be brought to the police."

Lakehead University's administration said it will not comment on the Facebook confession site at this time.