Whether we are willing to admit it or not, there is something captivating about rumor culture. The act of rushing to sit with your friends at lunch after hearing a juicy rumor in the halls. Followed by hurriedly whispering it to them and waiting to see if what you dug up is just as shocking to them as it was to you. Rumors are thrilling. However, they are unpredictable, constantly changing directions and often losing sight of the truth. Many people find themselves happily swapping scandalous stories one day and the ostracized main character of one the next.
Ever since the shift to remote learning, the Oyster River High School student body has been more captivated than ever with the rumor mill. Students have been turning to social media as a prime source of entertainment. Many have even created secret accounts, which post rumors submitted by their peers. With this wave of student-run confessions pages has come a rush of rumors started by students. All of which are being posted online for others to read for entertainment. Many students have faced times where their secrets have been posted without their permission. Even administration, who is more out of the loop than ever, has been having trouble dealing with these rumors and determining whether any of them bring harm to students.
Arianna Alcocer, (‘21) has observed the transition of rumors from the hallways to social media. “At school you are more cautious about what you say because there are other people in the hallway and you don’t want them to overhear that you are talking about someone,” Alcocer said. Despite their physical separation from their peers, students have still been searching for their rumor fix and have turned to spreading rumors online. “Our generation is very electronic and without drama we feel like we have nothing to do and get bored,” Alcocer continued. With an increasing spread of rumors comes an large amount of false rumors. “People have more time on their hands, so they can really throw more rumors out there,” Alcocer said. When in person, rumors were a constant yet quiet presence in the school, only flaring up occasionally when a particularly juicy rumor came along. The spread of information took longer due to the different stories that would be told. With the start of online pages students can go to one source for all of their information and the rumors can spread like a wildfire.
One of the most popular platforms for students to catch up on the rumors is through Instagram with student accounts such as: or.confessions, orhs.drama, and orhssimps. Since March, many Instagram accounts have been formed with the intent of keeping students entertained. The most dominant of them being OR Confessions, a student-run account that allows for students to anonymously submit rumors which are posted for their peers to see. Confessions was founded in July and since then has amassed over 1,000 followers. “We chose to start this account as a way for members of the Oyster River community to be able to have fun, interact, and bond over a virtual platform. As COVID has isolated us all to our homes, it was important for us to create a unique platform that students would want to participate in,” stated the owners of OR Confessions. The admins have offered much needed entertainment for the students at home. Alcocer admits that she, like her peers, has found entertainment through the page. “People follow them because they have nothing else to do, everyone is at home or at their computers and it gives them a sense of normalcy”. Alcocer said. The inspiration for the account came from one that had previously existed a few years ago, but failed due to lack of interest. “We thought this would be a perfect opportunity to revitalize this idea.” Confessions explained.
With anonymity comes the urge to submit rumors that students wouldn’t say in person. The owners of Confessions explained the measures they take to prevent the exploitation of those who use it: “we just post what we [the admins] deem to be appropriate. The only rule we have is not posting confessions that negatively portrays someone,” Confessions said. It is hard, though, to find a perfect balance with rumors that are not hurtful while still keeping people engaged. Sometimes rumors, whether intentional or not, will hurt people.
Madelyn Marthouse (‘23) has experienced the consequences of rumors first hand. “There was one confession about something that happened to me and they staged it like I had written it,” Marthouse said. She then contacted the administrator of Confessions to get the post removed, though she was unsuccessful. Marthouse, who considers herself to be a trustworthy friend, felt betrayed by the leaking of her personal life. “It made me feel terrible, almost sick. How I deal with it is to just not engage. I try my best to move on. I think about how I didn’t do anything wrong in this situation and I am able to be the bigger person. It’s all about having a positive mindset,” said Marthouse. While many false rumors are meant to be funny. Some, like Marthouses, are meant to harm.
Mark Milliken, Dean of Faculty at Oyster River, is no stranger to dealing with rumors among the student body. Remote learning has left him feeling out of the loop on what is happening with the Oyster River students. “Generally rumors would manifest in something happening at school. That would be our connection to find things out and now we don’t have that,” Miliken said. Due to the lack of contact between the faculty and student body, Milliken says the responsibility of monitoring students’ lives online and off falls mostly to parents.
One of the greatest challenges that administration faces when trying to stop the spread of harmful rumors is tracking down the source. QuickTip, a way for students to submit anonymous information to the school, serves as a tool for administration in finding out issues the student body is encountering. According to Milliken, one of their most recent tips was about something posted online by a student regarding an account for student confession. While quick tips serves as a helpful tool in stopping rumors, students have also used it to submit false rumors just to get others in trouble. “It’s hard to discern what’s real from what’s a rumor. We have to treat it all as if it’s real, so it takes time to track down information.” Milliken said.
While some submissions on confession pages and QuickTip can be light hearted jokes that are aimed to make people smile, far too many of them are at the expense of other people. When rumors do show up containing serious content, that if true needs to be addressed, the anonymous shield that protects students can become a major problem. Milliken recognizes that every rumor needs to be treated as true in case it is, and because of that, digging up information regarding the reliability of a rumor can be hard. Milliken tries to prompt students to be open about the rumors they hear. “There is a really strong culture of snitches getting stitches. I understand not wanting to get somebody in trouble but there is harm going on. I wish people were more willing to help us shut the rumor mill down,” Milliken said. With administration feeling less informed on rumors during remote learning, they are having more trouble keeping up with the spread of rumors and are more in need of student sources for facts. The fact that accounts can also be private and monitor who is allowed to see them adds an additional obstacle for administration when trying to find the culprits of false rumors.
In the case of administration catching wind of a serious rumor that they need help determining the credibility of, they often turn to the Student Resource Officer (SRO) Michael Nicolosi. The SRO’s job is to keep students safe and happy at the school, and is ready to step in to try and solve conflicts. The first amendment protects people’s freedom of speech, but if there is a criminal aspect to what you say, Nicolosi will step in to take a look. When administration reaches out to Nicolosi, his job is to discuss with them the severity of the rumor before filing a report and investigating the rumor. “Rumors are spread much easier today than in the past. One post can be seen by hundreds to thousands of people. You can also spread rumors anonymously and create fake accounts. Last year, I investigated someone posing as another student and writing inappropriate things claiming to be that student.” Nicolosi said. With online rumors comes a certain level of advantage for Nicolosi because many apps have terms of service which relinquish certain rights regarding access to your account. “I can apply for a search warrant, which would grant me access to your account. Once I get the approval of a judge, I could potentially look at data on these accounts,” Nicolosi said while explaining that a majority of the online rumors are coming from Instagram and SnapChat which both use these terms of service agreements.
Nicolosi recognizes the appeal of rumors to students and expressed that, “part of it is also comparing your life to everyone else’s life. What is their experience like and how is that different from mine? When I was in high school, I was constantly measuring up my own accomplishments and inexperience to everyone else’s experience: “Should I do that? I have not done that yet, maybe I should?” But, how do you know if that person’s experience is real or just a made-up story?” Since then, Nicolosi has learned the true detrimental effects of rumors and that no matter how encapsulating they are, students should be wary of them.
With the end of rumor spreading nowhere in sight, Nicolosi shares his hopes for students to start to realize the toxicity of them. “This is the time where we need to work together as a community to be better. Putting others down does not contribute to positive growth, it only creates more issues.”