The Secret Behind NUS Confession Pages

(Credit: Varsha)
(Credit: Varsha Sivaram)

Do you have a secret? Don’t worry – you can share it with everyone and still keep it safe.

Welcome to the world of confession pages and social media.

The name NUS Confessions might ring a bell for seniors. From crushes on tutors to the listing the cleanest toilets on campus, it was a collection of anonymous posts submitted by students about everything to do with school. Started in 2013, the buzz surrounding the online ‘confessions’ phenomenon has since quietened, with fewer stalwart commenters to continue the momentum that the channel once enjoyed.

NUS Confessions
NUS Confessions

Enter NUSWhispers, the successor of Confessions. The shtick of the pages has largely remained the same, but what students are posting about has changed gears. While NUSWhispers takes the tone of most confessions pages around, posts on NUS Confessions had tackled more controversial subjects, triggering robust discussion.

Back in 2013, the posts were longer and more detailed. They covered controversial issues, such as the problematic aspects of Overseas Community Involvement Programmes and the debate surrounding Section 377A of the Penal Code. Everyday issues were featured too, with students posting anonymously about topics including relationship advice, the importance of academic results, and project work pet peeves – much like NUSWhispers does today.

Compared to its predecessor, NUSWhispers appears to have diverted the attention back on students’ experiences. Posts in recent months have centered on common problems that one might be able to relate to: choosing a major, internship applications and even administrative issues like lost and found notices. In particular, one grievance that seems to dominate posts is romance. Confessions of affection and worries on developing relationships during exchange programmes were just some of the concerns students had about their love lives.

A typical popular post on NUSWhispers.

It is no denying that these issues are important to the student population. Yet what seems to be lacking here is a good breadth of topics, something that NUS Confessions had nailed in the past.

That’s not to say Whispers is entirely narrow in scope. Some of its posts touch on highly relevant issues that prompt engaging discussions amongst readers. Take a post like this: An anonymous student spoke up about the antagonistic sentiments towards wealthier students in NUS. The original poster argued that such negativity was unwarranted, and that in our meritocratic society, hard work begets financial success. Disagreement quickly spread in the comments, but rather than turning into a virtual fistfight, online observers were treated to a fruitful debate on the meaning of meritocracy. Readers of the post might have been prompted to think about the broader issue at hand, showing that NUSWhispers might just have the potential to prompt thoughtful discussion, as its predecessor did.

An NUSWhispers thread on cross-strait ties and the issue of reunification.
A thread on cross-strait ties and the issue of reunification.

Another issue that NUSWhispers cast the spotlight on was mental illness, by detailing their concern for members of the NUSWhispers community who expressed thoughts about self-harm. Encouragements to those in pain to seek help, as well as discussions about societal stigma against those with mental illnesses, seem to have given the confessions page a new, more meaningful dimension.

So why, on average, do posts on NUSWhispers garner less likes and comments than those on NUS Confessions did in their heyday? Differences in the quality and style of posts might be the answer, giving NUS Confessions the upper hand in popularity. NUS Confessions was also more diverse, possibly drawing in more readers who could relate to the page. Save for the one-off examples above, most of the posts published on NUSWhispers fall within a narrower scope, which could explain the lower levels of engagement.

With these differences in mind, perhaps a shift in the content featured on NUSWhispers might give it more traction. The page presents an opportunity for students to raise their thoughts on social issues, get a sense of what their peers are going through, and even seek some help for themselves. By opening NUSWhispers up to a new range of topics, the trend of confessions pages might just return, more meaningful and relevant than ever.

What do you think about confession pages? Share your thoughts on Facebook or in the comments below!