Have you ever wondered what's on the mind of the average college or university student? UMentioned Laurentian and Spotted at Cambrian, two popular Facebook pages where students can anonymously post messages, might just give you an idea.
Not surprisingly, the search for love seems to be high on the list.
Many of the messages sound like this one posted recently on Spotted at Cambrian: “To the girl at Timmies around 10:10, brown sweater, black pants and white shoes wow you are beautiful! - shy guy sitting down at Timmies.”
Other messages, however, involve questions about how to handle personal issues, solicit opinions on academic matters or offer comment on other aspects of student life. Many of the posts elicit debates among dozens of participants.
This, for example, is a message recently appearing on UMentioned Laurentian: “To the girls in the east study room, stop with the gossips - guyz studying for an exam tonight.”
The student who administers Spotted at Cambrian asked for anonymity, feeling that the integrity of the page and his own privacy and security require a certain facelessness. Northern Life will call him John.
He started the page on Oct. 3 and watched as the forum rapidly gained popularity.
Spotted at Cambrian now has 5,487 fans, while UMentioned Laurentian, which was started last year, has 4,530 fans.
John said he started the page at the suggestion of a friend, who had noticed similar Facebook forums for other post-secondary institutions popping up.
Students who want an anonymous message put up on the page send Spotted at Cambrian's administrator a private message, and he in turn will post it on the page for everyone to see.
“There is a little bit of pressure to have things posted as soon as possible, but for the most part, it's really not that hard,” said the student, who also founded Spotted at Nipissing/Canadore.
“I find time to actually do the posts even when I'm busy.”
He said his favourite posts are the amusing ones.
“When funny stuff comes in, that's partially what gets me through the day sometimes,” he said. “It's fun. I enjoy what I do.”
John said he tries to post most of what he's sent, but does draw the line at messages that bully others. He also moderates comments.
Although he receives a lot of sensitive, personal information from people, he said he takes confidentiality very seriously, and wants people to know that their secrets are safe with him.
“I see everyone's stuff,” he said. “However, at this point, I get so many messages a day I don't even recognize names anymore. I don't even notice who sends what in.”
Spotted at Cambrian and UMentioned Laurentian haven't gone unnoticed by the administration at either school.
Jean-Paul Raines, Laurentian's manager of digital strategy, said he likens the Facebook forums to a type of “modern-day water cooler.”
He said when he was a post-secondary student 10 years ago, he might have asked people in his dorm for advice, but these days, students are able to ask their question anonymously online.
While Laurentian doesn't endorse the Facebook page, and prefers to communicate through more official channels, it does monitor the content to see if there's anything the university could be doing better, Raines said.
It also watches for worrisome content, and intervenes if necessary.
For example, a post this month on UMentioned Laurentian asked if anyone was willing to write a paper for another student. Laurentian's Centre for Academic Excellence left a comment, informing the forum's members of the consequences for plagiarism.
While he finds the Facebook groups interesting, Raines said he is a bit concerned for the people who run them.
“Everything that is posted on Facebook or most social networks is subject to be used in court, right?” he said.
“So for the people that are organizing the groups, they do have a sense of liability there. It is a pretty major risk that a lot of the students that run these groups aren't calculating, maybe.”
In an email statement, Shawn Poland, associate vice-president of college advancement, said sites such as Spotted at Cambrian are the modern platform for the social media generation.
“Conversations like those taking place on the site have always taken place in some format or other across campuses for generations,” he said.
Poland said while Spotted at Cambrian is not endorsed by the college, Cambrian is monitoring the conversations because they “give us further insight into the student experience at Cambrian.
“If we are listening to those conversations, it makes us a better college,” he said.
“Of course, not every comment will elicit change. However, it is important for Cambrian to understand what our students, prospective students and alumni are talking about.”