Students created several anonymous Instagram accounts dedicated to posts about their peers and teachers in recent weeks. Accounts such as @hw.confessions posted rumors and negative messages about students, while @hw.compliments monitored submissions and posted compliments.
The accounts, including the confessions account that posted uncensored rumors and comments about students and teachers, reached hundreds of followers. One account posted student submissions about attractive teachers at the school. Its posts were deleted within a few days.
Social media causing problems
Colin Luse ’22 said he thought the account’s posts were problematic because teachers did not approve of their names being published.
“I’m all for students expressing themselves freely, but the teachers mentioned were unable to give their consent to the posts,” Luse said.
Carina Villalona ’22 said she chose not to follow the account because she thought it was inappropriate.
“Our teachers are just meant to teach us, not be rated on attractiveness,” Villalona said.
Changes in social media usage during quarantine
She said she was also opposed to the creation of accounts that post hurtful messages about members of the community, such as @hw.confessions.
“I think these accounts can encourage cyberbullying because people are incentivized to gossip about fellow students under the veil of anonymity, which can be really dangerous,” Villalona said. “I don’t think Harvard-Westlake should allow these types of accounts to exist.”
Villalona said that during quarantine, while students are more reliant on internet socialization, the effects of accounts like @hw.confessions are more damaging.
In response to the proliferation of gossip accounts, @hw.compliments was created to uplift members of the student body. The page amassed over 250 followers and has posted more than 300 compliments.
“I think the effect of this account is positive because it’s always nice to get a compliment, it makes your day better,” Kara Yoon ’23 said.
Harm of cyberbullying
While students had mixed reactions to the different accounts, Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research Teacher and Head of Peer Support Tina McGraw said they can be harmful to students’ mental health.
“What is problematic is when they amplify information that is personally harmful to teachers or students,” McGraw said. “Even positive comments can make someone feel profoundly uncomfortable in the digital space, especially if the posts are anonymous. I can guess that socially self-conscious teenagers would have a difficult time with unwanted social media attention of this sort.”
McGraw said student-run Instagram accounts using the name of the school contradict the Honor Code and the school’s beliefs.
“Sometimes there is great value in sharing experiences on social media platforms, but Instagram accounts dedicated to gossiping about people’s personal lives without their permission seems antithetical to our desire to be a supportive and cohesive community,” McGraw said.