In May, Carly Tennes didn’t just bid farewell to her university. Graduation marked her last day as the administrator of the popular Facebook page NYU Secrets, which accepts anonymous submissions — secrets — from students and posts the messages publicly. Tennes ran the page which has amassed over 40,000 followers for two years before passing on the torch.
For the first time since its creation in 2012, NYU Secrets will have multiple admins — three, to be exact. And like the past two admins, their identities will remain anonymous. In the past, there has been buzz — as well as controversy — over who the mysterious people running NYU Secrets were.
In the spring, Tennes recruited the first admin, a junior, who we will refer to as Admin 3. When Tennes first reached out to Admin 3, who has had previous Facebook admin experience, he did not know who she was — but he was interested in the role.
“Without any hesitation, I applied with one condition: I get to have a team of admins rather than working myself,” Admin 3 said. Tennes agreed, and so the team was born.
The new Secrets team works very close with each other; they all have the same tasks: sorting, marking and scheduling secrets. In order to stay on the same page, they keep a group chat, constantly updating each other on the secrets they want to post and any challenges that come up with submissions.
“We discuss with each other various edge cases, anything which we can’t definitively understand,” Admin 1, a CAS junior, said. “But for the most part we trust each other’s’ judgements strongly enough that we are able to work rather independently.”
If you scroll through their feed, you will find a variety of posts ranging from personal struggles to crushes and political comments. However, not every secret makes the cut.
“We’ve gotten a lot of phantom sh-tter posts,” Admin 1 said. “To me, personally it’s something that’s not worth posting about because what does it say?”
One of the many challenges that the admins have faced this semester is sifting through the trolls, many of whom choose to speak on touchy political topics.
“We try to filter out secrets that read as people trolling the submissions box, but personally I struggle with the political content, because a lot of it sounds like it’s written specifically to piss people off in the comments section,” Admin 2, a sophomore student, said.
The admins’ main goal is to provide a place for students to express themselves without directly being judged for their opinions. They want to create discourse in addition to safe spaces.
According to the admins, the power of running NYU Secrets comes at a price. In this case, the toll is the emotional labor. Getting online hate and controversial messages comes with the job description, but then there is also the difficulty of dealing with darker posts.
“I’ve struggled with a lot of mental health issues, and I find myself empathizing with the people submitting those kinds of secrets to a point where it can be emotionally taxing,” Admin 2 said.
NYU Secrets may act as an anonymous safe space, but it is not a permanent solution for those struggling with their mental health. The team stresses that they are not experts, but they do try to help anybody that reaches out to the page.
“Tennes has been working on getting the new admin team educated on crisis response, so that if a student reaches out saying they need help and we are able to contact them back, we can respond them appropriately,” Admin 2 said.
After a student died in early October, the number of submissions about mental health skyrocketed. Tennes stepped in to help the new admins navigate the situation by posting a message acknowledging the death and reminding students that they are not alone. Inspired by the Facebook group NYU Memes for Bankrupt Teens, she encouraged NYU Secrets followers to share “wholesome-memes” under her post.
Tennes’ post, like many of the recent posts on NYU Secrets, received a low amount of follower interaction. The low engagement-to-follower ratio is a point of discussion for the admins, too. The team places part of the blame on the new Facebook algorithm, which prioritizes private content over public content. Of course pages can pay for exposure. However, Admin 3 explained that NYU Secrets does not make any profit.
NYU Secrets also generally doesn’t succeed with memes because of the nature of the page.
“[NYU Memes] generates more engagement because the community is the one posting, whereas [NYU Secrets] is only us three,” Admin 3 said. “To add to that, the Group also posts pictures and videos, and we unfortunately are not ready to start doing that.”
The team’s long-term goal is to raise user engagement with posts on the page. Admin 1 says they hope to incorporate some of the administrative strategies of the admins of the UC Berkeley Confessions Page, a page they talk with frequently.
In addition to this, the team hopes to further discuss the pros and cons of their anonymity as admins. “I’m personally conflicted on the merits of anonymity versus our identities being known, and we are still trying to weigh such an option,” Admin 1 said.
Despite all the challenges they’ve faced so far this semester, the admins are just grateful to be able to carry on NYU Secrets and give students a place to be honest.
“For many people, they don’t care how their secrets are received by the public, they just want a means by which to express it,” Admin 1 said.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 5 print edition. Email Elif Kesikbas at [email protected]