A number of Facebook pages parading under the title ‘IIT Confessions’ have sprung up overnight, and have resonated widely with IITians across the country. They are an outlet for the bored student, the sort that Facebook seems to be such a fertile breeding ground for during Quiz Week, and though these pages started small, they quickly gained so much popularity that it is almost impossible to be ignorant of their existence.
These pages (there are individual ones for different IITs) allow students to make confessions online anonymously, which are then posted on the page. But while the word ‘confession’ is usually associated with an admission of guilt and a sense of closure and relief for the person making the confession, authors of these confessions have taken the act of confession and turned it into something very different. The confessions here seek to shock, to titillate, to entertain, and never to be (that dreaded word) boring. They also reveal startling insights into the mindset of the student body, or at least a section of it.
When the IIT Madras Confessions page started, what drew many of us to it were harmless pranks played on classmates. Such posts were usually by impersonators pretending to have feelings for some or the other student- they were the earliest posts that I saw on the page, and were amusing for the brief period they lasted.
But very quickly other kinds of posts began trending on the page- posts about sex and sexuality, posts about people’s fantasies, posts that seek to defame some person or another, posts that were shrill in their condemnation of something or someone. These posts were on the page yesterday morning, and stayed there until the afternoon. Worse, there seemed to be a section of students who were egging on these confessors. It was a situation of free-for-all voyeurism, where everyone was trying to shock everyone else with scandalous entries and potshots at people whose identities were very poorly concealed. Under the easy cover of anonymity, emboldened by the support and encouragement, some authors were striving to outdo one another in being scandalous.
Several students reported abuse on the posts and requested the moderator to take them down. A moderator says that, at first, they published every confession they got, but now they employ a process of scrutinisation. Out of 750 confessions that the page has received thus far, around half have been deemed unfit for publication on the page. Some of the offensive posts were removed after publication. Now, the confessions that are published are much more tame.
Of that slew of confessions, of which some still remain on that page, most were sex-centric (usually tales of masturbation, or abusive and lecherous posts about women), while some others were complaints against institute culture in general. They reveal a deep dissatisfaction in the campus community. I do not know how big a section of the community this is (anecdotal evidence suggests that it is a small fraction of the populace, with some authors admitting that they posted multiple times), and it is quite probable that many of the stories are fake, but they represent a bitterness and frustration that is very real.
Although the worst posts are gone, several pertinent questions remain. Of the most insulting posts, I wonder: what drove people to be so mean, to defame others in that fashion? Why did they enjoy it so much? Perhaps, for a while, they felt like kings on their little Facebook page, where they could judge and condemn as they pleased, answerable to no one and nothing.
There were also lewd comments and abuse aimed at women in the campus (often for the simple crime of not seeming ‘attractive’ to these male confessors, or rejecting their advances). These posts are telling of the startling perceptions of a small section of the campus. They tell of a campus where some of the population lacks the social skills and the maturity to engage in a level-headed dialogue with members of the opposite sex. Is it their limited interaction with girls that is the reason for this malady? Does this speak of a fundamental disrespect for women? Some people expressed a desire to read scandalous stories by girls: there was a confessor who exhorted girls to ‘open up’ on the page, citing the ‘bold’ (read: sexually explicit) comments of girls from other IITs as an example.
And then there were the posts that spoke of acts of depravity, drunkenness, and experiments with drugs. In different ways, the confessors in each of these posts seemed to be gleefully crowing the same thing: “We’re all so terribly bad, aren’t we?”
Also notable were confessors voicing their opinions against institute festivals, Lit-Soc, Institute Secretaries, etc. A confessor posts: “I wanted to be a part of lit-soc as a freshie, but I soon felt the elitist attitude prevalent in the lit circles.” Another confessor, in an irate diatribe about everything he hates, posted, “Institute secretaries can’t even convincingly speak English”, highlighting the student’s perception that to be in a position of responsibility, one needs to be fluent in English. Coordinators, secretaries, and whole departments of Shaastra and Saarang were the targets of criticism. There were posts about dirty politics in IITM too: “Indian Politics look much better when compared to insti ones [sic]”, among others. This speaks of a simmering resentment among a section of people in the institute against student representatives and activities. But what is striking is that all of these confessors seem to have done nothing more about it than post anonymously about them, indicating that it might have been a very petty sentiment which drove such posts.
All along, there seemed to be an unbridled, childlike glee in breaking all social norms and conventions. People felt a juvenile satisfaction in airing their dirty laundry and festering grudges. There are, however, a few genuinely humorous posts, some actual confessions, and posts that speak of an overriding disillusionment with the system. How many of these are genuine is unknown, but the number of such posts has significantly increased since the moderator started screening the posts that went up. There are also some posts that speak of sadness (“I’m damn sad in life. There, I said it”), boredom and low confidence, and it is good to see that some of them have supportive comments beneath them.
‘IIT Madras Confessions’ was inspired by the more generic ‘IIT Confessions’, which in turn seems to be modelled on similar sites by US universities. Right now, ‘IIT Madras Confessions’ has an ardent following. When I posted a comment about some of the offensive content on the page, I was informed by a ‘sincere fan of the page’ (as he called himself) that I might have killed what had been a fun activity for many. Encouraged by the success of anonymous confessions, it seems, another page has sprung up- ‘IIT Madras Proposals’.
But in a week, perhaps, this page will be forgotten. Maybe all the posts will become harmless, genuine confessions, and then people will lose interest in them. We will then wait for the next sensation, the next viral video, the next ‘entertaining’ page on which we can fritter away hours of our life. But I cannot help thinking that as our institute bounds from achievement to achievement and crosses new milestones, pages like ‘IIT Madras Confessions’ reveal a parallel, darker narrative.