It is safe to say that, as students living in 21st century Scotland, we have the ability to practice freedom of speech both inside and outside of university. Whether in the lecture hall, a tutorial or at home with flatmates or partners, as modern individuals we are usually able to express our views openly and confidently. Not only do we all currently live in an environment in which freedom of speech and individual ideas are encouraged by society, but we attend an institution on which this is the basis of everyday studying. Everyday we get to speak our minds and express our ideas – something some people in various parts of the world do not have even today.
However, it is undoubtable that in recent years there has been an increasing relationship between this ability to speak our minds and the internet — with a few mouse clicks, we are able to post an opinion for our entire online social sphere to receive. Usually on platforms such as Twitter or personal Facebook pages, these opinions are related directly to us through screen names and profile descriptions, meaning we accept the fact that friends, family or colleagues can see such views with ease. But what happens when this is taken away and replaced with anonymity? Addressing the various St Andrews anonymous pages available on Facebook currently, I consider whether they are a wickedly funny soapbox through which we can have some fun outside of university stress, or if they are something slightly more sinister than first thought.
To name a few, it is St Andrews Crushes and St Feuddrews that most often appear on my timeline. Providing the ability to post about an attractive person you may have spotted in Taste or vent about your flatmate who just can’t seem to clean up after themselves, these pages often provide a light relief from the monotonous wheel of tutorials, lectures and 2 AM library stints. Students are able to submit an opinion, confession, or message to a potential lover with total anonymity, and then watch as various discussions or incessant tagging to embarrass friends follows. In defence of these pages, our ability to express views anonymously comes as a basic right – we have the ability to use the internet freely, and if ranting about how your roommate hardly ever brushes her teeth before bed gives you peace of mind, go for it. We should be able to enjoy the online freedom we have while at university, and if these pages allow for a discussion of common knowledge then that should be a positive thing.
Additionally, these pages have become a half-comical, half-serious environment in which university life is openly discussed. From tuition fees to overcrowding in the library to ridiculously high ball ticket prices, we are exposed to a forum in which we can talk about change. Recently, striking at the university has been a popular topic, and the anonymous pages associated with St Andrews students allows us to voice our support, anger or confusion at the thought of losing valuable lecture time. Moreover, we are able to post about politics and any grievances against political groups at the university, which has often lead to useful debate regarding the different political views we may hold. We are also able to post about social issues, such as LGBTQ+ experiences, and either praise St Andrews’ acceptance of various communities or ask for change when acceptance isn’t deemed to have been met. These pages allow us to ask for x or y, and that’s a good thing, but most importantly it allows for these discussions to be carried around the university sphere and even back home with you.
However, the darker side of anonymous posting cannot be ignored. Even though a large majority of the posts on these pages shout objection to issues like sock thieves in DRA laundry rooms, the odd post appears now and then that could be cause for concern. Given the anonymous nature of these pages, students have the freedom to post about anything – but when does this ability over step the line?
Reading the odd post about depression,loneliness or even the suggestion of traumatic experiences that have occurred in this little town makes me wonder about how many students are struggling with personal difficulties and perhaps need support. It could be argued that, given the usually comedic or debate based nature of these pages, posts about feeling friendless or alone simply get ignored or lost in the hundreds and hundreds of rants or appeals to prospective romantic partners. While this is not the direct fault of the pages, it could lead you to question whether having such a forum online is productive — given their nature, it would be diffi cult to find the suffering individuals and provide them with help, if accepted.
Moreover, these pages can be argued to have created a culture of nastiness among students. While obviously debate and anger is expected on some of these pages, some posts go too far sometimes. From naming and shaming people for sleeping with various sexual partners to exposing a past friend’s most embarrassing or secretive experience or regret, it can be argued that the anonymous nature of these pages makes people forget just how hurtful words can be — in my opinion, if you can’t say it to someone’s face, perhaps you shouldn’t say it at all.
In conclusion, the debate surrounding internet anonymity and students is a tricky one. While the above discussed pages are hilarious, interesting, and sometimes quite sweet (adorable posts about that one girl you sit with in Physics or that nice guy in your English tutorial, I’m looking at you) 80 per cent of the time, but they could potentially be damaging. While it’s fantastic to have a forum for discussion or a page to post rubbish on when you and your friends are bored, the nature of anonymous submission inevitably makes it a rocky boat to stand in. Personally, I think the pages should stay. Not only do they provide relief, laughter, or discussion as breaks between mountains of History readings, but I think freedom of speech is highly important. However, I think as students we should keep an eye out — I would like to think we have a duty of care to all people studying here, and if something seems particularly worrisome we should at least talk about it, and try to offer support.