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Do ‘freedom walls’ set us free?

By Maya Tuviera Published Dec 02, 2022 5:00 am Updated Dec 02, 2022 7:47 am

Trigger warning: This article contains brief mentions of sexual harassment and violence.

My obsession with freedom walls began with a Facebook comment. My name, followed by “This is literally so you,” was among many other comments on a freedom wall post about “that one friend who never uses Facebook.” I laugh-reacted the comment, but the page’s title caught my eye.

I’ve encountered innumerable freedom walls since then that come in different names and formats: “tea accounts,” “gossip pages,” the list goes on. You’ve probably encountered a freedom wall when doomscrolling on Facebook or in your school’s hallways. 

Freedom walls are certainly a good idea in theory.

Freedom walls are a space where individuals can anonymously submit messages for an audience to read and respond to. Some of the posts are pretty normal questions like, “How can I join x org?” or “Why are there so many Miguels in Ateneo?” However, some posts are brutally honest or unbearably raw, mourning over unreciprocated love or admonishing a school’s administration with ferocity. Essentially, freedom walls are the manifestation of a fundamental question about human nature: What would we tell the world if no one held us responsible for it? 

Many freedom wall followers and operators have had a rude awakening at one time or another. People say awful things when they don’t need to take accountability for them.

In many instances, freedom walls serve as a unifying force for whole communities. When scrolling through the freedom walls such as UP Diliman Freedom Wall or ADMU Freedom Wall, you’ll find seasoned students giving advice to help newbies navigate campus life. When they can’t offer advice, readers often leave a “care” or “sad” reaction for submitters they sympathize with. Or better yet, they’ll submit a message on the freedom wall and respond with a new post. They’ll refer to the initial post’s number and respond, beginning a conversation that transcends time and space and is available for the world to overhear.

From the DLSU Freedom Wall: To DLSUFW #9864, Hi! I also feel that way with my friends. Most of them are plastic to me also. Wanna meet up and be friends?

Freedom walls are certainly a good idea in theory. Allowing users to anonymously submit messages they are too scared to express openly can be empowering. With every like, comment, and share, freedom walls show you that you’re not alone in feeling what you do. Having an entire community read and respond to messages can be a constructive and inclusive experience. 

 The sanctity of freedom walls is often ruined by the type of messages that people choose to send.

However, the sanctity of freedom walls is often ruined by the type of messages that people choose to send. Many freedom wall followers and operators have had a rude awakening at one time or another—people say awful things when they don’t need to take accountability for them.

For an idea of how severe the submissions can get, just look at UP Diliman Freedom Wall’s pinned post:

Hi Friends. It really is so hard moderating this page with your submissions which is one of the reasons why posting of submissions are delayed. Maybe around 90% of your submissions reeks of sexual harassments, or those that are against Facebook’s policies (which will get me banned). I asked the admins of DLSU and ADMU’s freedom wall to co-moderate with me and after they saw how bad they were, they resigned immediately. PLEASE SUBMIT WITH GOOD INTENT AND WILL IN MIND. 

In the “glory days” of freedom walls, the content guidelines were a free-for-all. The rules were simple: Say whatever you want and get us clicks. On pages like Xavier-ICA Freedom Wall or LSGH Freedom Wall, users would accuse fellow students of racism, sexual harassment, or violence. While it’s certainly good to hold others accountable for harmful behavior, the virtue of the action blurs when no evidence is offered, disputes break out, and accusers refuse to go beyond the comfort of calling someone out online. 

Instead of being a forum for productive discourse, these freedom walls become a breeding ground for hatred.

In the past, posts have gone as far as naming people in inappropriate ways, comparing well-known female students to adult film lookalikes, or saying that a certain student gave off “school shooter vibes.” With one click of a “submit” button, people’s lives are upended by strangers. Although the subjects may not be confronted about the post in real life, they have to live with the knowledge that an anonymous user decided how thousands of people would think of them. The Internet never forgets—even something seemingly trivial like being name-dropped as someone’s crush can skew the public’s perception of someone in ways they may not be comfortable with. 

Instead of being a forum for productive discourse, these freedom walls become a breeding ground for hatred. People say whatever outrageous thing they want and shirk responsibility for it, allowing their negativity to spread to thousands of freedom wall followers. Just as we gossip about celebrity relationships and the pitfalls of persona, freedom walls have allowed the macro-scale of drama to find its way into our personal microcosms. 

The fundamental difference between freedom walls and real life lies in anonymity and ease. When the two are combined, responsibility becomes optional and discourse can turn ugly. Often, people go beyond enjoying their freedom on social media to make others feel unsafe, effectively ruining what was once a safe space for others. To those with good intentions, this ease of submission is liberating—iit allows them to express their thoughts freely to an audience of willing listeners. However, this liberty turns ugly when it is misused. Within seconds, a user can type up a hateful message and have it posted for thousands to see, failing to understand the lasting consequences of their words on the psyche of their targets. 

Although they can become negative, what freedom walls have become shows us that it’s important to establish safe spaces for people to express themselves.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that freedom walls can promote a culture of honesty and open-mindedness if they are properly regulated. Many freedom walls bear the same slogan: “Speak your mind, but be kind.” Although they can become negative, what freedom walls have become shows us that it’s important to establish safe spaces for people to express themselves. At their core, freedom walls are built on the fundamental belief that people deserve to be listened to and not to be judged for their thoughts and beliefs.

Now, freedom walls have tightened their content regulation and have the potential to do tremendous amounts of good. When people act with basic respect and kindness towards one another, freedom walls are a powerful tool for facilitating healthy discourse and articulating all that we are afraid to say in fear of being judged. Ultimately, finding liberty in one’s own voice helps people feel like they are not alone, but rather, empowered in their role as part of a larger whole.