Controversial posts on Urban’s “Post Secret” lead to more careful moderation

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An example of a secret submitted by an anonymous Urban student

Ariane Goldsmith, Staff Writer

Urban Post Secret, inspired by PostSecret, (an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard), is a tumblr where Urban students can express their desires, fears, and confessions. It was started in February of 2012 by Urban’s HIPE, Health Initiative for Peer Education, a leadership group that focuses on educating students about the health of their bodies and minds. Despite the seemingly simple goal of unifying Urban’s student body, Urban Post Secret has recently caused controversy by publishing problematic posts.

Lena Galinson (’16), member of HIPE, noticed a recent change in the responses to Urban Post Secret.

“There hadn’t been complaints about racial slurs or ignorant comments until events like Ferguson made Urban hyper-aware of racial issues and people were responding to events in offensive ways,” said Galinson. “We weren’t sure what to censor because we hadn’t dealt with this before.”

Milan Dolezal (’17) agreed that the website quickly transformed from “something fun that people could laugh at” to something “more serious” that “restricted people from freely expressing their secrets because they were afraid that someone would respond,” causing drama and tension on the website.

“We shut down for a little bit because most of the moderators, including myself, were becoming more relaxed about the guidelines,” said Matthew Shepherd (’15), member of HIPE. “As a result, people were taking advantage of this relaxed period and started posting things that weren’t traditional secrets. And while this didn’t go against the guidelines exactly, it went against the original purpose of the website,” he continued. The original purpose, being “a way for people to understand and connect with other students and realize that others are experiencing the same things…We don’t post anything about negative body image, self-harm, and most comments about race, which was a response to what happened earlier,” said Galinson.

Using an anonymous forum to express one’s opinions could either be productive or problematic. When Urban students began to debate about racial and political issues behind masks of anonymity, the tone of the website strayed from its original goal.

“We were made aware by people both inside and out of HIPE that there were conversations happening that were disrespectful and detrimental to both anonymous individuals who had posted on the site, as well as specific groups of people,” Shepherd said. “This included both targeting certain races and hating on leadership groups at Urban.”

“It’s frowned upon to disagree with Urban’s political and philosophical standpoints so Post Secret is a good place to do that,” said Maceo Anderson (’18).

The shift in posts led to a shift in Urban Post Secret’s popularity as well. What once could be seen on multiple computer screens during any given class period has now become a rare sight.

“When I was a freshman, people checked Post Secret religiously but this year people talk about it less which leads to checking it less,” said Dolezal (’17).

Galinson believes that Urban students becoming more apathetic to Urban Post Secret was caused by HIPE moderating it more closely.

“Now we’re censoring more posts in response to people’s controversial submissions,” Galinson said. “I think people want to see more gossip and now it’s more emotional and focused on people’s opinions.”

Because Urban Post Secret is only three years old, its hard to tell if its recent decrease in popularity will have long lasting effects. Despite these issues, students still think of Urban Post Secret fondly.

“I still remember some of the posts we talked about last year, like, ‘Sometimes I just eat plain limes. Lol just me and my limes,’” said Dolezal. “It was really funny.”