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Personal Attacks or Harmless Gossip? When BHS Instagram Accounts Go Too Far

Students caught sleeping, making an ugly eating face, or parking badly may find themselves awarded 15 minutes of fame at Berkeley High School (BHS). This notoriety is thanks to the student-run Instagram accounts that are unofficially affiliated with BHS, such as @bhs.slump or @berkeleyhighfits. The accounts post photos of students who fit their niche, from strange postures to creative outfits. Other accounts like @bhigh.confessions have become even more dominant, allowing students to anonymously submit “confessions” about themselves or others. In some cases, these statements are funny or genuine, but others are personal attacks sheltered by anonymity that tie into large-scale issues. Where do we draw the line between harmless gossip and serious accusations?

The @bhigh.confessions account posted an anonymous submission on December 13, 2021 that read, “I vaped into the Turkey on thanksgiving.” Posted on the same day, another submission stated, “[Student] is such a hypocrite for dating a water polo creep but then preaching to be against harassment and assault.” These statements have vastly different weights — one being a comment made simply for entertainment, while the other is a targeted attack that has links to the heavy topic of assault. When statements holding a wide range of weight are framed in the exact same context, it implies that they can be considered through the same lens.

This does not mean that @bhigh.confessions needs to always be “nice.” Some submissions lean positive, such as one posted January 4, reading, “@seniors ask more people to lunch !! we’re bouta graduate so it doesn’t even matter.” But these accounts, by definition, foster an environment where students are allowed to make fun of or be critical of one another. In a @bhigh.confessions post, another student wrote, “Sophomores and juniors think they’re hella hard but their parents won’t even let them take Bart to Ashby from North Berkeley. The freshmen look like they’d start crying if their mom didn’t cut their sandwich in the right shape.”

However, the difference between mocking and making accusations lies in the end result. A debate about whether freshmen are wimps does not change anyone’s reality, whereas singling out someone results in immediate repercussions on a peer-to-peer level. The harmful consequences that follow a post written and received as gossip reflect the tone of the submissions and are in no way part of a thoughtful interaction. Further, with anonymous submissions, objectors are left to share their thoughts in an ill-natured Instagram comment section, with little space for a resolution or healthy discussion.

Confronting people that you disagree with and holding them accountable is important, and the internet can be a tool for that. But information transfer through gossip on @bhigh.confessions is not addressed with the consideration that is necessary. Rather, it is met with people who think that they are the authorities for a situation they likely know little about.

Another hazard of accusations on @bhigh.confessions is that many of these “confessions” incorporate misogyny, shedding light on prejudice that persists behind the scenes at BHS. There are a handful of posts that call out female students for “trying to f*ck other people’s men” without acknowledging the equally involved male counterparts. This is not to shut down the conversations that BHS students are looking to have about serious topics such as cheating or associating with sexual assaulters. In fact, the content on these Instagram accounts has made crystal clear what is needed: a space to foster conversations about the subjects that have led to the most controversial confessions.

Accounts like @bhigh.confessions have demonstrated that they can still provoke interesting conversation, when they do not cross into the territory of attacking specific people in a way that will be conflated with and spread as gossip. The author of one submission wrote, “it is insane to me how normalized [porn] is,” exemplifying how BHS students want to share their thoughts on issues that are important to them. Submissions with this intention can enrich the @bhigh.confessions account. However, when such topics are framed as gossip on social media, they lead to unproductive fights in comment sections.

From scandal papers documenting the marriage market centuries ago to gossip columns in professional and school newspapers, the natural inclination to share our opinions about one another has long evolved past spreading information solely through word of mouth. @bhigh.confessions and its spinoff accounts are merely the newest iteration of a narrative voice that has evolved alongside the spectacles of daily life for centuries.

What these accounts lack compared to their predecessors is mindfulness of their impact. Entries in past gossip columns, while aiming to stir up drama, were curated to some extent, and subjects were not referenced by name. Anonymous online gossip should not extend to personal issues that cannot reach their necessary resolution when warped on a public account. @bhigh.confessions must be conscious of its responsibility to determine when submissions that draw laughs or prompt reflection turn to statements that cause harm.