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Identity and catharsis in a digital space of localized anonymity
Bachelor of Arts
Sociology, Communication, Anonymity, Identity, Confession, Catharsis, Community imagined audiences, Internet, Digital sociology, Identity formation, Social media
The Smith Confessional is an anonymous forum for Smith students, which many students consider a space of extreme vitriol and cruelty. Despite that, individuals within the Smith community continue to actively use it to this day. In this paper, I conduct a discourse analysis of posts on the Smith Confessional website, coupled with semi-structured interviews to understand why people are drawn to this space and how they form identity on it. I draw on both Goffman and Mead's theories of self, and I contrast the Smith Confessional with other confessional sites that have been studied by Turkle (2011). In this analysis, I look at how Smith Confessional users employ it as a space of emotional catharsis. Further, I note the distinct nature of the Confessional as a space of localized anonymity, where even if users do not know the identities of other users, they recognize the Confessional as a distinctly Smith-based stage, and use the site in response to Smith culture. Finally, I consider the way that individuals on the Confessional perform their identity as an immediate and emotional response to controversial and highly charged topics. On the Confessional, they can voice opinions that are unacceptable in broader Smith culture, due to the impact those opinions might have on their offline, biographical selves. I argue that the draw of the Smith Confessional lies in the way that many Smith students exist in a culture of hyper scrutiny both online and offline, as a result of the real name internet, and that the appeal of the Smith Confessional lies in a broader social need for a social safety valve, where individuals can articulate elements of their selves and push against their community without fear of long-term consequences.
©2021 Abigail Camille Butera.
Butera, Abigail Camille, ""You're exactly what I'd expect from the Confesh" : identity and catharsis in a digital space of localized anonymity" (2021). Honors Project, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
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