The Secret Files: Everybody’s got something to hide
MANILA, Philippines – Just when you thought universities were raising your kids as virtuous, upright citizens, the Secret Files pages are here to prove your ideas about squeaky-clean college students wrong.
Since The Diliman Files Facebook page was opened for dirty confessions from students of the University of the Philippines, similar pages have cropped up in other schools, garnering tens of thousands of likes in a span of just a few days. Diliman was the first really popular page and was the precedent for all the other popular pages.
MSU-IIT Confessions preceded Diliman Files by 4 months, but has a little over 80 likes only. Diliman Files has, as of this writing, over 39,000 likes, since it started on Facebook in September 2013.
The pages work as confessional spaces where students talk about raunchy on-campus adventures, clandestine crushes on near-strangers, and the best places to do the number two in school.
While each page caters to a different university, they function the same way. All pages use anonymous Google Forms, which, at the minimum, asks for the secret and a pseudonym from the student.
Rappler spoke to Secret Files page administrators from the University of Sto Tomas (UST), De La Salle University-Manila (DLSU) and Ateneo de Manila University on the appeal of secrets and the way university communities are being reshaped through a mass exchange of secret messages.
Spread the word
Secrets go from the sweetest admissions of love to the nastiest sex stories. One popular post on Ateneo Secret Files details how the writer hooked up with a fellow Atenean at a party only to find out they were cousins. The story ends with an even more shocking plot twist.
Another story on the same page gave a blow-by-blow account of a particularly bad bowel adventure.
Not everything is as humorous, though. A number of posts on The Diliman Files raise issues about income bracket-based discrimination on campus.
Rules of engagement
Each page has encountered its fair share of problems.
The UST Secret Files, for instance, had trouble aligning the nature of the page with the university’s identity. “We were not able to consider that UST is a Catholic university and putting up stories with mature content would not be nice for the reputation of the said university,” explained the page admin.
De La Salle University-Manila Secret Files, on the other hand, ran into problems with the university administration, as well as La Salle alumni.
“They mentioned the page not being in line with ‘Lasallian core values,’ how it ruined the good and holy name of the school, how we also risked our own names by being associated with these ‘malicious’ posts,” explains DLSU senior Niña Guno.
“While I understand where they are coming from, I see that their main concern is the Catholic reputation of the school. Personally I think they miss the point of the whole thing—that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.”
Despite numerous requests to shut down the page, the DLSU Secret Files admin has refused to back down.
“Our dear readers defended us despite what we took as a signal to shut down, and they encouraged us to continue the page,” the page admin said.
“The administration’s biggest adversary isn’t us — it’s the students themselves.”
The power of secrets
What makes Secret Files so appealing? Students have different explanations.
Guno said people enjoy being able to discuss taboo topics anonymously. “To put it bluntly, I would say we all have an inner perv that we don’t want to own up to, or at least our conservative society won’t allow us to.”
Ateneo sophomore Santiago Arnaiz finds that students like the judgment-free space to talk about their secrets.
“It’s humorous, but also therapeutic,” he said. “I think the reason it appeals so much to students is that you need that affirmation that, whatever you’re going through, it isn’t a lonely venture. Like, it’s kind of beautiful in a sense. It really is.”
Admins of both the Ateneo and DLSU pages point to how the secrets break stereotypes about their universities. “The stereotypical Atenista we have in mind [is] a filthy rich straight-A student engaged to the grandson of Henry Sy. Here, we get to see Ateneo students in a different light,” said the Ateneo Secret Files admin.
"We also poop. Our farts stink. We also order extra rice," he said in Filipino.
“[The secrets] portray us to be quite kalog and humorous people,” said the DLSU Secret Files admin. “They also reveal that tons of people are annoyed by fellow students who give the impression that La Salle is for coño and arrogant people only.”
There’s something in the way Secret Files pages bring their respective university communities together.
“We are so overwhelmed by how the whole page became some sort of chat box for everyone to interact in,” the DLSU Secret Files admin explained. “It unites the university in an unconventional way, but it works.”
“I think the comments section helps keep the student body close to each other. [Students] were able to find people with common interests and talk about certain topics with people they don't even know,” said the UST Secret Files admin.
Arnaiz makes the same case for his university, “The fact that the Secret Files here has the label ‘Ateneo de Manila Secret Files’ kind of grounds it and it reminds you that, although their names aren’t there, everyone there is someone you run into every day.”
“It’s the sense that you have a personal affiliation with this person. Because you come from the same school, you know where they’re coming from,” he added.
Whole lotta history
While Secret Files is a relatively new phenomenon, Ateneo communication instructor Ayo Supangco said that the currency of secrets is nothing we haven’t heard before.
“From sex scandals and men and women's magazines having the ‘ladies’ confessions’ sections, it's all about creating a faux-participative reality,” he said.
“It's the ‘most genuine pornographic experience.’ Not only are you titillated, but [you] also unravel the person: their needs, wants, motivations, guilt, sin. It is very intimate.”
Supangco added that the allure for readers is in the risk-free fantasy Secret Files lets them indulge in.
“People who regularly consume the materials are merely acting out what consumers do. People have made a product that's quite juicy and edgy. Everyone wants a piece of it.”
“In effect, it gives them a brief dalliance into the ‘dark side’ but still remain free from judgment and social repercussions. It is a very safe way to indulge in a fantasy.”
The fact, simply, is that everyone has secrets, and we all need the space to share those secrets. Whether it’s your best friend or the entire Internet, it’s great to be able to share stories of your dirty deeds. It’s even better to hear all about them. – Rappler.com