Schools' open secrets

Schools' open secrets

They're dwindling, but Secrets are set to stay online

An air of secrecy surrounded the four people sipping coffee on Tuesday in a cafe in Causeway Bay. They're the administrators behind Hong Kong youth's most talked-about pages on Facebook.

Almost every one of the 490 secondary schools has a "secrets" page, but there's also controversy about them. For that reason, the four were willing to talk only if their real names were not disclosed. Anastasia and Winnie manage Maryknoll Convent School's secret page, MCS Secrets. Billy and Henry, founders of Elite Secrets, would not identify their schools.

As they spoke, the secrets on their pages kept updating.

"We have another administrator sitting in her office, posting secrets for us now," Henry says. Anastasia and Winnie get help from three others to keep MCS Secrets running.

Online for only about two weeks - Elite was born on April 26 - these secret pages have already polarised comments from both the schools and students.

Some students love the idea because it provides a platform where they can share and learn more about their schools. Teachers and principals who embrace it say it's a good way to hear real opinions from students, who generally are not allowed to take part.

But there are also students afraid of becoming the targets of cruel exposes, and schools that fear damage to their reputations.

Billy and Henry, however, say Elite Secrets actually teaches people to be responsible online under anonymous conditions, and the negative comments stem from misunderstandings.

"Most of the time, people correct inaccurate information in previous secrets. It's a community which actively self-regulates," Henry says. The trio also remove inappropriate and defamatory posts, acting quickly once they receive complaints.

He cited one instance when a boy, a victim of trolling years ago after a video of him giving a speech appeared on local television, was mentioned on Elite. The post generated thousands of views in a short period of time. To head off unnecessary online bullying, Henry says: "We removed it within an hour of its appearing."

Some school officials appreciate the efforts the administrators make. Henry says he and Billy once saw a message sent in by a Good Hope School student during assembly. She said her principal was happy to see such platforms existed, as they showed how students were concerned about their schools. The principal later added her comment: "Hi, Hopers, like to meet you here."

If some messages seem mean, it may be because they are read out of context. "One of the teachers was talked about a lot on the page recently. He was told about it and he seemed quite happy to be the talk of the town," Winnie says.

Henry says: "Ultimately, we just want to provide a free platform for students of the same school and different schools to bond and form their own community."

One of his favourite types of secret is the love post. "We've had students sending messages to our inbox asking us to post their love messages because they know the person they like reads our site regularly and has to go overseas to study soon." Sometimes, posters get a positive response from their recipients, which gives administrators and the internet community alike a tingly feeling.

Henry said the Elite team felt particularly encouraged when they received a message along the lines of: "Remember to charge your phone fully: 10 per cent for phone calls, 20 per cent for texts, and the rest for Elite Secrets."

Billy, who's in charge of Elite's technological side, says that at its peak, it received more than 1,000 secrets and was visited by 900,000 users. The team still get about 200 secrets a day, and the page about 700,000 hits a day. The MSC Secrets page, says Anastasia, also gets about 200 secrets a day.

Although the number of secrets is gradually decreasing, all the administrators say they will persist.

Henry says: "You get new secondary school students every year, and that's why I think the number of users will grow."

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