Oxfess: Behind the Scenes

Image: Oxfess’ Facebook cover photo, which features the Radcliffe Camera in green and blue, with text reading “You will always look back on this period of your lives and realise what a unique experience you had as university students during a global pandemic”.

This week The Flete had the opportunity to speak to a few of the team of admins from the ‘Oxfess’ page. Since the page’s inception during the winter vacation, it has amassed over 1,600 followers, with thousands of anonymous posts. For many of us, Oxfess represents our first insight into the inner quirks, worries, and experiences of the diverse Oxford community, and after matriculation is responsible for the alleviation of infinite essay crises in intimidating college libraries. It would not be unfair to say it is the procrastination tool of choice for the average Oxford intellectual, with one satisfying scroll after another distracting from the time management regret that has caused such a crisis. 

The Oxfess admins have long been regarded as hermits in the student community. They are a self-contained, non-judgemental bunch, who provide an essential public service, if only to keep us in the loop regarding the ever-changing attitudes, music tastes, and affordable wines of choice (Zesty White or Fruity Red?).

According to St Augustine, ‘The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.’- perhaps the adage holds true for quirky works, too. Through confessing and reading the confessions of others, we have an opportunity to learn and engage with others, with their actions, regrets, and mistakes. Above all, it gives us the chance to feel connected to our student community, even when we are what feels like a long way away from Oxford. 

But what goes on behind the scenes of running such a quasi-religious confessions page? We spoke with three of their admins to find out. 

Why is a confessions page so important at a university such as Oxford? 

A lot of people find it incredibly comforting and powerful to be able to share their experiences, thoughts, and questions with an audience of their peers and remain anonymous. Especially at a time like now where mental health is suffering considerably, having a platform to anonymously ask for help and vent their concerns can be really empowering to those that use it. 

But also for many, Oxfess is entertainment. It’s fun reading what those around you are saying, seeing inside jokes, and sharing memes. People love to kill time and Oxfess is a great way to do it. 

What is your favourite post on the page? 

Our favourite posts tend to be memes! We love seeing memes and polls. Mainly because [it’s] super easy on our end because we don’t have to read a huge block of text to see if it’s allowable or not, but also, because they are just easy and usually entertaining content!

How does Oxfess actually work? 

Anyone can submit a submission via the link on the page. Once they submit it shows up on our admin panel. We often receive anywhere between 150-250 submissions a day. On the moderation side we have a list of key-words that will ‘flag up’ a post, such as if it references hate speech or anything discriminatory. We review every post and carefully examine those that are flagged. We also can’t post every post. This is just because we get so many and we have to ‘pick and choose’. Often, we will get many Oxfesses on a particular topic and therefore just pick a few that are noteworthy or encapsulate the general sentiment. 

Once a post is approved it goes into a ‘post queue’ and then gets automatically published to the page. We try to balance things out – so that there is never just a string of ‘serious posts’ and we try to make sure that the posts that come out daily reflect a mixture of serious discussion, questions/advice, and funny and entertaining content. 

Finally, what are some of the difficulties regarding the moderation of a page like Oxfess? 

We always get tons of submissions everyday. At this point, it averages anywhere between 150-250 a day. We try our best to carefully review every post but sometimes we fall short. When we do publish a post that should not have made it out, we are proactive in removing them. We regularly remove posts by request and do so without question. Essentially, if someone finds a post hurtful that is enough for us. 

There is also a misconception we get on our page that we are a ‘free speech platform’ and therefore have an obligation to accept all posts, including hateful ones. We take a very strong stand against hate speech and any posts which may adversely affect someone. We have internal guidelines and we follow them. It is also our policy that if an individual is bothered by a post / or that if it could in some way be directed to them, that we will remove it straight away – no questions asked. 

However, we tend to believe that it is our duty to keep Oxfess as much of a safe space as possible. This is why we occasionally put blocks on ongoing debates over topics like UK politics, lockdown policy, and the rent strike when they become too personal or heated. Sometimes though, posts slip through, but we always take them down within minutes of being notified that they are problematic. 

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