Among the many spaces for discourse that the Yale community creates — including seminar rooms, dining hall tables and bulletin boards — a popular and uniquely interesting one is Yale PostSecret. Yet, in late December, the moderators of the page temporarily halted the publication of new submissions, writing, “We have become concerned recently over the types of comments being posted here.”
Founded in February 2013, Yale PostSecret is a Facebook page dedicated to sharing “secrets” submitted anonymously by Yale students. To explain the rationale of the page, one of the first posts reads, “All secrets are meaningful and worth sharing … Hopefully, through learning of our peers’ secret joys, struggles, thoughts, and dreams, we can be further united.”
There is no doubt that Yale PostSecret has united the Yale community, in some sense. Over a third of Yale’s undergraduate population is “friends” with the page, and there are very few other spaces on campus in which so many Yalies read the same things and participate in the same discussions. Posts on the page that receive hundreds of “likes” give us a sense that there are common experiences shared by much of the student body: joy over hockey victories, stress about academics and unrequited love, to name a few.
Yet, when a sizable fraction of our community converges around a space of discourse, we should examine whether that forum is conducive to the types of discussions we want to have and relationships we want to build. Last month’s temporary suspension of Yale PostSecret should serve as a wake up call; the page’s very existence points to aspects of our campus culture that could be improved.
Discourse on Yale PostSecret tends to fall into a few, set patterns. There are people who post humorous observations, which are responded to with either humorous rejoinders or outrage. Some students express anxiety about their self-worth, and receive assurances and validations from complete strangers. Many of the posts express frustrations of various sorts — about academics, sex and relationships — and receive generic advice and likes as consolation. Some are outbursts of joy and excitement.
The most interesting posts are those that make controversial (read: not leftist) political assertions, which are usually met with an outpouring of indignation, ad-hominem attacks and sarcasm.
I doubt any of us think Yale PostSecret is the ideal way for our community to be having any of these sorts of conversations. People who doubt their self-worth should be comforted by those who know them best, not by people on the Internet unfamiliar with their lives. And, ideally, when things get frustrating, we would all have networks of friends who could serve as a support system. The fact that these anxieties and frustrations remain “secrets” is an indication that our community has failed many of its members.
Meanwhile, the fact that, by the looks of it, many Yale students feel they can only express their political views as anonymous “secrets” indicates that something has gone wrong in our campus political discourse. If the rationale of the University is for a community of thinkers to arrive at the truth through discussion and debate, then a campus culture with one set of ideologies so dominant such that some opinions are not expressed means that we lose the opportunity to convince each other.
A Facebook page devoted to secrets indicates a campus culture where we keep too many.
Is Yale PostSecret, itself, a good forum? In some ways. There will always be people who feel marginalized from Yale’s community, and Yale PostSecret is an effective way for them to express their thoughts, even if they are shouted down in comments. And until we do a better job supporting each other as friends and as a community, generic advice and sympathy from an online audience is better than nothing.
Yet, we should remember that every post on Yale PostSecret that anonymously expresses anxiety, frustration and unpopular opinions is an indictment of our community: not only because of the content of the post, but also because we haven’t found a better forum for it yet.
Scott Greenberg is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. His column runs on Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.