His voice is steady.
He chooses his words carefully; he speaks as if he’s composing a written piece, with the absence of slang and the presence of well-constructed sentences.
He agreed to a phone interview on the condition of anonymity — even to the reporter on the other end of the phone line.
“I’m a student at Stony Brook, and I have a history of starting things on campus,” he reveals.
He is the founder of Stony Brook Secrets — a Facebook page on which Stony Brook University students can confess their innermost thoughts and feelings.
He is human, but he’d prefer it if people didn’t think of him that way.
He says he does not want to be the object of anyone’s focus, or even to be seen in his or her peripherals, when they think of his creations.
“It’s not about me, knowing who [the people who submit the secrets] are, using it against them,” he says. “But you know, sometimes for me, you get a secret and you’re like, ‘wow, I want to respond to this person, I could connect with this person,’ but you can’t do that.”
“These are faceless pages, and there is no personality behind them,” he says. “No one knows who it is.”
Some do. Others soon will; it is only a matter of time. He does not seem to realize this. He hired moderators to help him post, as the volume of submissions grew.
He calls himself an entrepreneur.
He is an undergraduate, but not a member of the Undergraduate Student Government.
His Secrets page works like this: students send in “secrets” through the Stony Brook Secrets Tumblr page. In this way, the page’s creator has enabled reputation-conscious individuals to send their confessions and questions anonymously.
When the page was first created in December 2012, secret submission was a process done through a Facebook message. The creator, who posts the secrets on the page, would therefore see the sender’s name. With the Tumblr system, this is no longer a concern.
He has new concerns now.
At the time of the phone interview, mid-January, he was working towards what he says was a necessary partnership with the university’s psychology department and Counseling and Psychological Services.
“The chances of them coming on board is beyond 100%,” the page creator says. “Honestly, it would be a crime for them not to do it.”
He says that the university will feel good about having a student who “feels empowered” to start pages like his.
However, he has since realized that the Facebook page is not affiliated with the university, and decided it should stay that way.
He predicted in January that the page would reach 5,000 “likes” by the start of the spring semester. Three weeks into the semester, the “like” total stands at 4,236.
Students, and possibly non-students, have shared all sorts of secrets. Girlfriends cheating on boyfriends, sex escapades, familial discord, money problems, school problems. And then there are the confessions of self-harm.
The page’s creator does not typically respond to messages people send him. Confessions of self-harm are the exception.
“I try to say, ‘hey, I know this is an anonymous page, but just know that there are these outlets, there are these support groups on campus,’” he says. “So I’m not pressuring them. It’s kind of just an educational awareness kind of situation.”
He sends people like these the number to CAPS.
His current project, however, is to take the Facebook page and bring it to life. He is working to turn Stony Brook Secrets into a non-profit organization, which he explained by throwing out a bunch of jargon.
The page’s faceless creator also founded Stony Brook Compliments, Stony Brook Admirers and Stony Brook Suggestions — groups similar to SB Secrets, through which students of the university can communicate with each other anonymously and with no direct obligation or accountability.
Nickolas Srica, a junior majoring in health science, was tagged in a post on the Secrets page because someone anonymously confessed to having a crush on him. Though he says he was “somewhat flattered,” he also says that the tag was an exhibition of an unfortunate societal trait.
“I honestly feel like it epitomizes what our generation is becoming,” Srica says. “We all turn to the Internet and social media to gain this sense of confidence to say things we would probably never say in real life, and it’s a shame that all of the personal interactions and confidence to say how we feel in person have pretty much disappeared entirely.”
Srica is also skeptical of how legitimate the posts are.
“It’s more likely that half of these posts are either jokes from people’s friends, or an anonymous act of courage that will never mount into anything real,” he says.
Aimee Pomeroy, Undergraduate Student Government executive vice president, was also on the receiving end of some admiration in the group. She says she was flattered and that she supports the page, which she likens to the SB Secrets event on campus each spring, when people submit hand-written secrets to be posted in an art gallery setting.
“Both are a great opportunity to vent and express emotions, but it also makes students feel connected,” Pomeroy says. “When you read the hundreds of different secrets and see so many that resemble your own, it really makes you feel part of the campus community.”
But then there are trolls.
The trolls of fairy tales live underneath bridges and wait to jump out at people when they least expect it. The trolls of the Internet aren’t quite so charming.
Devoted followers of the Stony Brook Secrets page may recognize the name, “Isabella Claxito.” Little do they know, Isabella does not exist; the male commenter who goes by the pseudonym does.
Claxito refused to reveal his true identity. He says he prefers to comment on Secrets anonymously because he tends to say “harsh things.” He did reveal that he is a “he,” resides in Brooklyn and is a first year engineering student at SBU.
“I rather keep it confidential and say whatever I feel like saying without ruining my rep,” Claxito says in a Facebook message.
Despite people like this, the creator has a business plan he says.
He wants to turn Secrets and Compliments into non-profit organizations. They would begin their lives as university clubs, and eventually become non-profits, he explained.
According to the brain behind the effort, participants will “retain anonymity, while increasing interaction, and the organization will harness that by making the peer interaction more real.”
When asked to elaborate, and explain concretely what the organizations will do, he says that those are “secrets.”
He dreams of turning pages, which he plans to turn into international non-profit organizations.
He could not elaborate on that.
He says that he is currently pitching his ideas to venture capital firms “who believe in socially responsible initiatives, allowing the organization to grow and have undefined potential.”
According to his timeline, he will establish a team by the end of spring and implement the changes by fall.
Psychologist Brad Jacobs, whose daughter is a student at SBU, had not heard of the page until he got a phone call for an interview.
Though he could only speculate, he had his ideas about the motivation of both secret-submitters and the secret poster.
“Whatever secrets [people] have, they need to tell them sometimes just to feel understood and recognized,and seen,” Jacobs says. “People have a need to be understood and seen.”
He likened the opportunity for anonymous venting to the historical popularity of “Dear Abby” letters – people would sometimes write letters to Abby anonymously, in an attempt to receive advice and just to tell somebody without dealing with the consequences of telling someone they knew personally.
According to Jacobs, the act of secret submission can act as a sort of discharge for guilt, anger, negative feelings and even positive ones. And looking for comments on secrets posted on Facebook is the equivalent of looking for feedback, he explained, in an effort to feel less alone.
Jacobs explained that people have obvious needs and more subtle needs.
“People often do things to meet a need,” he says. “We eat because we’re hungry, we sleep because we’re tired.”
Perhaps less obviously, he says, people need recognition, appreciation and control.
And as for the creator of Secrets, Jacobs could only psychoanalyze in a speculative sense.
“He could just be, you know, a do-gooder,” Jacobs says. “It may be somebody who themselves needs recognition for like, good things.”
In addition, Jacobs explained, the organizations people create may represent their own need for something like that.
On Feb. 17, the page creator posted an announcement, informing readers that he would not be posting secrets “for the forseeable future.” According to the post, the pause will serve as a moment of silence in honor of the death of SBU student Jocelyn Pascucci.