“Share your secrets,” says the description of the Facebook page NYU Secrets, “Let’s build a community — once and for all.” This goal strikes a chord with many students who feel that community is lacking at NYU. With over 40,000 students, no official campus and a student body scattered around the city and the world, it is easy to understand why many NYU students feel isolated. NYU Secrets has often claimed to be the antidote to this problem. But now that founder Aristo Orginos, a Steinhardt senior, has announced that he plans to end the page once it hits 9,000 secrets, it is time for NYU to consider whether the page was a solution to this problem — or something that made it worse.
Communities are built around trust, intimacy and common values. Despite its admirable goals, NYU Secrets often promotes toxicity. It regularly features mean comments and petty arguments: “Ur wasting our secrets with stupid shit like this,” says one commenter, and “Someone is temperamental today. No need to be so snotty,” says another. If this is what the NYU community looks like, perhaps we are better off without one.
NYU Secrets, like many Internet forums, tends to breed hate, viciousness and cruelty because it provides a relative degree anonymity. It creates an opportunity to express every type of offensive thought and opinion. While Facebook comments are associated with real names, people are far more likely to be cruel online than they are in person. It normalizes the callous nastiness that the Internet can bring out in people and allows it to grow without consequences for the commentor.
A common defense of NYU Secrets is that it allows people to vent about problems they would never otherwise be able to express. Students talk about their struggles with mental illness, their difficulties at home and even share suicidal thoughts. These problems need to be addressed, and people struggling with these issues should be encouraged to seek help through the proper channels— not through a Facebook page. The commenters on NYU Secrets aren’t therapists or doctors; their advice tends to be well-intentioned misinformation at best and outright dangerous at worst. Relying on an unsupervised crowd of strangers for emotional support is rarely healthy behavior. Far from allowing students to deal with their problems, it can easily trigger even worse progressions of mental illness.
Orginos has said that he plans to choose a successor to the position of NYU Secrets administrator. But this isn’t what NYU students need. Instead, it is time for NYU students to go out and create a community themselves — one free from hurtful comments.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 9 print edition. Email Hannah Weverka at [email protected]