Content warning: harassment and bullying, mentions of suicide, ableism and racism
The increasing tension of the political climate and the cabin fever produced by the multiple lockdowns we have faced over the past year have made the whole internet climate unstable and unhealthy. “There's already been an uptick in submissions about going out and having fun, as well as fesses, and normal life around the world is still a long way away. Another thing is that Newfess has had a reach that extends past Newcastle, and Northumberland even,” said one the Newfess II admins.
The admin told The Courier: “There definitely seems to be a lot more bullying on Newfess than on other confession pages, but it doesn't rule out that their submission boxes are full of it too.”
An anonymous user defined Newfess’s toxicity as “an intrinsic problem with the medium that people will send in edgy/offensive things for the fun of it.” He continued by saying: “genuine debate or education is ok as long as we're not up for debating basic human rights.”
While the admins said that some offensive posts are filtered out, especially if they are explicitly racist, homophobic, or sexist comments, they added: “Some posts that perhaps shouldn’t be allowed are accepted on the basis that somebody will explain to the OP why what they’re saying is wrong. With the new UniTruths submission tracking system, I’m hoping this evolves to enable admins to leave a note explaining why somebody’s post was declined.”
Elizabeth Meade told The Courier: “It's not marginalized people’s job to teach people why being racist, sexist, etc. is wrong. It’s also not the job of anyone being bullied/harassed for any reason to explain why bullying and harassment are wrong. Admins should absolutely step in if someone is being discriminatory, bullying, etc.”
“As a society we should educate each other, but anonymous hate is never something to educate it simply shouldn’t be allowed. Sadly, people don’t use Newfess to ask many questions, more to harm other people,” said Madeleine Lake.
Many of the users that got in contact with us believed that the responsibility of regulating opinions should fall on the page’s admins. Despite seemingly having good intentions, the Facebook page opens a door to the dissemination of hate speech and defamation. The attacks toward individuals like Sabbatical Officers or users like Naomi, who was accused of defending sexual assaulters.
Haaris Qureshi said: “This [form of educating posters] only works on a properly moderated platform, and when you know people are acting in best faith and want to challenge their ignorance. Also, there is no way of really knowing you’ve educated someone because they do not take ownership of their post. There are better and more suited platforms for this.”
The anonymity of the platform has been a point of discussion for many. Some say that anonymity provides the writer with a safe space to ask genuine questions or talk about a personal issue. However, it also avoids posters to be held accountable for bullying or hate speech and harassment.
Patrick Young commented: “People should be made to take accountability for their opinions that can be seen as offensive, because at the moment there is no way to hold people to account for their offensive posts, that are still somehow allowed through the admin checks.”
When asked how Newfess could be made a safer space, Rose (alias) said she believed that further and stricter regulation seemed to be “the only way to go forward other than closing the page down for good”. Rose continued: “I feel like people have genuinely been helped and found friends through the platform but all of the hate and bullying and controversy is cancelling out most of the good it does.”
Around a month ago, Newfess II briefly shut down, but quickly came back. The admin said this was due to a change in admins: “the previous admins had decided they couldn't run the page anymore, they were tired of going through the abuse submitted, both for users and admins themselves.”
Most frequent commenters have experienced personal attacks or bullying. Naomi said that not only had she been personally victimised by Beth, but that she knew of other users who had been suicidal due to the comments received. While this commenter did not share further details for privacy reasons, she mentioned that the University was made aware, but that they did not offer further resources to confront the bullying on Newfess II.
The University was contacted for comment about their knowledge of these events. A University spokesperson said: “We would encourage students not to engage in a social media channel that is harmful to them, and any student subject to bullying and harassment online can report this to the police and the website’s host.”
“All of our students can receive free support via our Report and Support service and, should they wish to, can make a formal complaint to our Student Progress team.”
Beth has been the subject of many recent Newfess posts, where anonymous writers would comment on her bullying and harassment of other users. When confronted with these allegations, Beth told The Courier: “I don’t bully anyone. If I disagree with your comment, then I will say so. I’m outspoken and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
On this, Tinisha Osu commented: “There’s a difference between expressing your opinions and patronising and putting others down.”
Beth was banned by the last admins due to ableist comments using the ‘R-word’, as well as transphobic and racially insensitive comments. After being banned, the alumna continued interacting with Newfess II posts by reposting and commenting on her personal profile, which has everything else privated. The Newfess admin said: “As far as we’re aware, there's no way to stop someone from seeing or sharing posts. Posts that were simply insults directed at her were declined.”
After being confronted for her use of the ‘R-word’, as well as making racist comments in her answers (which we can’t publish), Beth repeated the slur and said: “Ableist is just a crazy thing to comment.”
While she claims to only express her opinion, Beth has gone out of her way to attack other users that were not asking to interact with her. Naomi, who had been personally targeted by Beth said: “I still believe she is a massive bait account or if not, she is purely commenting to get a kick out of people and making them upset which is in fact bullying.”
Rose also commented: “Yes, free speech is important but it doesn't mean we can say whatever we want without consequence and it doesn't cover hate speech or anything which could be harmful towards others.”