Most Oxford students’ lives right now are defined by uncertainty. Will we be faced with an online Michaelmas as well as Trinity? When will we be able to see our friends and family in person again? Will the world we live in ever return to something resembling normality?
Yet one certainty remains. Seeking respite from an essay crisis or trying to pass the time during lockdown, we open up Facebook to see a feed clogged with heated political debates between anonymous strangers desperate for validation. I am, of course, talking about Oxfess.
I’m sure at some point Oxfess was better. A confessions page should be a place to share embarrassing, hilarious stories free from judgment, to give others a quick laugh during a break from their busy schedules. I’m not saying that there aren’t still great Oxfesses- there are always gems to uncover, however many “Oxford colleges as ‘Simpsons’ characters” or “OUCA members as flavours of crisps” posts you need to sift through first. But the recent preponderance of political discourse between enraged keyboard warriors has turned Oxfess sour.
Don’t get me wrong- political debate has its place, and passionately supporting your views is an essential part of liberal democracy. But Oxfess shouldn’t be that place. Relentless arguments between increasingly angry students are at best boring and annoying to the majority, and at worst anxiety-inducing. At a time where many have lost loved ones or are trying their hardest to deal with working in difficult home environments, to be told there is yet another issue we absolutely MUST care about is a step too far. Even if these debates are engaged with, they achieve very little; seldom do people change their minds or reach common ground after a series of emotionally charged rants over Facebook.
True, there is a certain irony about writing an entire article about content you ostensibly claim to not engage with. But this trend on Oxfess seems to showcase part of what’s wrong with current political discourse. The Internet allows views to be expressed without the need for accountability; behind a veil of anonymity, people can say whatever they want, however outlandish, ignore or shut down criticism, and find like-minded groups where their subjective opinions are accepted as fact. Now that COVID-19 has forced people into physical as well as political bubbles, there is a risk that politics will become further distorted, with common ground harder to find. Real constructive debate, between passionate individuals willing to openly defend their beliefs, risks being replaced by anonymous ideologues screaming talking points at a computer screen, achieving nothing.
So as much as you might feel an undying urge to ‘confess’ your belief that taxation is theft, or that private schools are an abomination, or that the controversial SU motion of the hour is a much-needed recognition of existing systemic issues/ushers in an Orwellian police-state, please don’t. Or express your opinion in an appropriate space, like a niche ideological sub-reddit or the YouTube comments on a Jordan Peterson video.