Ever heard of the phrase “The king has donkey ears?” As you can see in the saying, the urge for freedom of speech has been prevalent from early on, yet it is often seen that when people are trying to satisfy the urge, they seek for environments where a certain level of anonymity is guaranteed. The recent boom of so-called “Bamboo Forest” pages on Facebook can be an example. What is the reason for the boom, and what psychological and sociological reasons lay behind it?
▲ The Korea University Bamboo Forest Facebook page’s logo, provided by Facebook
The term “Bamboo Forest” originated from a fairy tale The King with Donkey Ears. In the story, the king suffered from a mysterious symptom- his ears started to grow, and soon they looked like those of a donkey. To cover up his embarrassing ears, the king hired a tailor in order to make a hat that would cover up his head. Yet, in the process, the tailor got to know about the king’s secret, and he was told to remain silent. However, the urge to bring the secret into open was so strong that, the tailor decided to go to a bamboo forest and shout it out, a place where he thought no one visited.
The “Bamboo Forest” Facebook pages were created in the same sense. The page claims to convey the thought of people who send messages to them, in a way that could guarantee anonymity. The page works in the following way: when a person sends writing that he/she wants to post, the managers of the page filter the writings, and post the ones that they thought were worth being posted. The whole process is done in a way that keeps anonymity. The pages are run on a university basis, where each university has its own bamboo forest pages. Pages for majors or clubs are often available.
Due to the characteristics of the Bamboo Forest pages, the musings posted often contain materials that people are afraid to bring into light of the real world. For example, the issues of sexual minority rights or postings related to love affairs are often posted. In addition, controversial issues, such as the problems between branch campuses, are often posted, as well.
▲ Koreapas.com’s anonymous bulletin board, captured from Koreapas.com
Yet what is noticeable is that since the Bamboo Forest pages are Facebook pages, the comments posted are not done anonymously. It is for this reason that the Bamboo Forest pages are an effective way to confess one’s thoughts freely, yet the responses are not done very freely. For instance, when there were postings related to the issue of double majoring between Anam and Sejong Campuses, most students did not dare to share their own thinking freely. One of the person that left comments to the posting said, “Because the comments do not guarantee anonymity, it cannot be helped that we hesitate before sharing our real thoughts.”
Similar sites that guarantee anonymity exist, as well. For example, “We convey your messages for you” sites are also prevalent on Facebook Pages. Yet the method is subtly different. It uses Facebook messages to receive reports from people- and, in the process, the anonymity is not thoroughly kept. Recently, the Korea University We Convey Your Messages for You was embroiled in controversy because it turned out that the page was run by a professor, and the professor was accused of using the data collected for his paper. The most distinctive characteristic of such sites is that the anonymity of the informant is guaranteed, but such actions degrade the site’s value.
Other sites such as Koreapas and Seiyon, online communities for Korea University and Yonsei University students, also provide anonymous bulletin boards. The boards are open for all students, and they can write whatever they would like to write. This is why the boards are often filled with inappropriate posts, and are often subjected to unending quarrels. To remedy the problem, Koreapas provides a system called “freezing”, which works as a way to block out faulty users, but the users claim that the method alone is not enough.
But the pros of these boards are that since the comments and the writing are both done anonymously, it is easier to confess one’s true thoughts freely. It is also easier to talk about the controversial or private issues more freely.
The anonymous bulletin boards in Koreapas and Seiyon are the boards most visited, and are the places where most postings are posted. The Korea University Bamboo Forest Facebook page was liked by over 5500 people, and Yonsei University Bamboo Forest Facebook page, which is one of the most popular bamboo forest pages, was liked by over 8000 people. It is apparent that most people have the desire to share their thoughts freely without concerning themselves about other people’s responses. However, the desires to do so have been coexisting with us from early on. Then what is the cause for the recent phenomenon of the boom of anonymous sites?
One of the factors that boosted the boom of anonymous sites, definitely, is the development of social network services (SNS). With development of SNS, the chances of getting connections with acquaintances have increased, but most of them often become superficial relationships. According to the research done by the American Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (AJPSP), the more one spends time on SNS, the more likely it is that the person can get into a worse mood and the level of self-regard may decrease.
Nowadays, with most people spending a lot of their times on SNS, people often confess that their sense of self confidence has decreased while constantly comparing themselves with others exposed to them via SNS. To get consolations from the distress gained from SNS and share their thoughts that they did not dare to do so on SNS, people started to resort to sites that guarantee anonymity.
The bamboo forest pages work as places where the worn out contemporary man gains a sense of relief. Some confess that what they get from the pages often serves as a healing process. By sharing one’s frank thoughts and considerations honestly and seeing people having a bond of sympathy about it, people feel that they are not alone, and that most people are, in fact, just like themselves.
For instance, one of the postings at Korea University Bamboo Forest pages says, “I sometimes feel loneliness even though I am surrounded by my new friends at university. I think I failed to build a genuine relationship with others.” The posting was followed by numerous “likes” and comments, and most of them were saying that they felt the same, and formed sympathy with each other.
While there can be merits to SNS and the anonymous bulletin boards, what cannot be underestimated is that whether we like it or not, we have to live in the real world, and that we cannot be anonymous forever. It is true that these sites often provide to us a sense of healing, but it is important to know that we should not allow ourselves to become too dependent to those services. While caring about our social images and considering other’s responses and how they regard ourselves are important, the more important thing should be how you regard yourself. It is more important to live an independent life, and not be too subordinated to others.