An interview with Penfession II

Penfession II Facebook page

In August, the administrators of the popular student Facebook page Penfession announced that they intended to close the page at the end of the month, officially ceasing operations last week.

A Penryn-based version of the common university “fession” (short for confession) page, Penfession had amassed over 4,000 followers since its creation in January 2019.

Following the announcement of its closure, a new team established a successor to the original page, Penfession II: The Swimming Pool Notice Board. The Anchor reached out to the administrators to ask them some questions.

When you heard that the original Penfession page was closing down, what inspired you to start a new one?

It was becoming apparent that the interest from the admins of the previous page was starting to peter out, and as a student who had just graduated, I felt that it would suck for the new (and current) students not to have something like Penfession. It’s definitely not, like, an integral part of the university experience or anything, but it’s fun to have around and can occasionally actually be pretty useful. While Penryn Campus Fitfinder is still about, we’d noticed they’ve tended towards the more serious posts in recent times, which I think still leaves a niche for a more casual page.

Are you looking forward to moderating the new page? What are you most excited about?

Definitely looking forward to it! Having had prior experience running Facebook pages and groups before, it’s not exactly uncharted territory, so it’ll be great to bring that experience back and hopefully provide some fun in the process. We engaged quite a lot with both Fitfinder and Penfession, so it’ll be fun to be on the other end of the equation this time around.

What do you think the biggest challenges will be in running Penfession II?

As mentioned before, we’ve run pages in the past, and we are aware of the challenges that come with it. A key source of apprehension is definitely dealing with the same flak that the previous admin team were getting—but generally, we’re not too fussed. At the end of the day, it’s a bit of fun, so if someone is angry enough at us to send hate mail, I reckon it says more about them than about our page.

I think the major challenge will be trying to grow the page. The previous incarnation was knocking around 4,300 followers, and as of speaking to you, we’ve just cracked 100. Obviously, a bigger community will mean more people see the posts, which is especially important for the more pressing or serious submissions.

How will your page be different from its predecessor?

In many ways, we’re not going to change much. The only major difference will be that we plan to engage a little more with the community. It’ll be an interesting line to walk—we don’t want to make the page all about us, so to speak, but we definitely want to stay engaged where appropriate. 

We’ve also chosen to keep community posts open for this page, which means that people—or local businesses—can post to the community tab on the page. It doesn’t necessarily show up on the main news feed, but it means that we can quickly share content posted there to the main page, if they don’t need or want the anonymous part of the submission process, or want people to quickly be able to access their Facebook profile or page — useful for lost items! 

Do you think you will be allowing political posts on Penfession II? How will you be moderating which posts are acceptable, or will the site be a completely open forum?

This is an interesting aspect of the old Penfession that we don’t want to go away. I generally think the political posts are fine, but there is definitely a line that has to be drawn over what can be considered acceptable. The key point of contention for a lot of people is the idea of bias on what is allowed through the approval process. Make no mistake, the admins will naturally have our own political leanings and opinions, but the objective is to not let that colour our process on approval. 

Ultimately, we will only be limiting posts that are clearly in violation of Facebook’s terms of service and that promote hate speech (which is also against the terms of service, but they have a terrible track record of actually enforcing). That includes posts that are targeting people in a way that is personally disparaging or hurtful, even if they say something that the poster disagrees with. If you can’t formulate a post which has something to say about someone’s ideas or opinions without it being a personal attack, then that post isn’t welcome on our page.

If I am to give my personal opinion, I think that in most traditional cases, there is truth to the idea that it’s unwise to let the “marketplace of ideas” just run free as often it can be difficult to create a meaningful debate due to inherent imbalances in power in those spaces, but in the case of the structure of a page like Penfession, there is ample room for pushback and dialogue—commenters can easily counter a post with a comment of their own and often do. I feel it’s a pretty effective way to incite discussion, and if things get heated, we can step in if absolutely necessary. At the end of the day, we’re here to moderate, not control the conversation.