Who runs Oxfess? That’s the simple question that no one in this university seems to have an answer to. Oxfess is the heart and soul of student communication at Oxford. It’s where we can be our truest, most unfiltered Oxselves. And yet, we have no idea who manages this platform at all. Who is the Rupert Murdoch that controls us all?
A quick search on the current Oxfess page shows that the first post was made on the 14th December, 2020. For an institution that feels so firmly embedded in everyday life at Oxford, this is surprisingly recent. In these three years, nearly 30,000 posts have been made. From Oxsh*gger to Oxsh*tter, relentless complaints about workload to desperate, grasping Oxloves – it is all present on the Oxfess hivemind. Anything and everything that an Oxford student can think of has been put out on Oxfess.
That’s what really makes Oxfess so special to this university – it is incredibly accessible. The veil of anonymity exposes the deepest, most depraved desires of an Oxford student for all to see, our unchecked horniness and our unfettered groupthink. I would even go so far to say that it is the most authentic voice of Oxford students, more than any of the big, institutionalised student forums. The SU, any of the JCRs, even student newspapers – they can’t compete with how well Oxfess brings to the light our most unhinged selves.
Then, if it is so vital to student life, if it is Oxford’s bubbling subconscious, why do we know barely anything about how it’s run? All the other student platforms are largely democratic and transparent. The SU and the JCRs are elected, and their inner workings are (somewhat) open to scrutiny. Similarly, student newspapers are always open to complaints and suggestions, and their entire machinery is student-run. Even the Union, for all its vices, is of the students, by the students, for the students.
But Oxfess remains a mystery. Certainly, it is meant for Oxford students. Is it of and by the students? Even I, a certified Oxfess Top Fan™, don’t know, and I’d bet most of you lot don’t either. If I could hazard a guess, it was probably set up by some enterprising student (Hamish Nash or Shu Huang?), and given that four years have passed, they’re probably not at Oxford anymore. Maybe they still manage it in their spare time elsewhere, or maybe they’ve handed it down to someone else who’s still at Oxford. Yet, it’s equally likely that it was set up by some shady Rupert Murdoch-esque opportunist that now controls their media empire with an iron fist. How dare we abide by such ignominy!
I’d like to clarify that I’m not encouraging or asking anyone to doxx or harass the Oxfess admins (please, I don’t want to be sued for libel). They clearly don’t want to make their identity public, and it’s completely fair to respect that. Oxfess is a Facebook page that they own, and it’s their choice how they want to manage it. None of us have a ‘right’ to it.
Nevertheless, I think it’s worth asking the student community how we think student communication should be managed. We strive to make our forums democratic and transparent because free and fair discussion is important to us. Then, do we want our favourite gossip page to remain in the grip of Big Brother?
The opacity of Oxfess makes the admin a virtual despot. Which posts will be approved and which ones won’t? They alone decide, and we cannot challenge them. Surely the OxDespot has biases, like all of us do – how are we certain that the posts we see don’t reflect them? When controversy breaks out, and they believe one side over the other, can we be sure they aren’t flooding Oxfess with only posts supporting their side? When transphobic, classist, racist, sexist posts are submitted, it’s their definition of what ‘crosses the line’ that decides which get approved. Big Oxfess has total control over the platform; they shape the content of our thoughts with their subliminal propaganda.
In truth, Oxfess seems to be moderated reasonably well. I think the variety of posts are (more or less) unbiased and representative of us students; I know I’d much rather complain about my flatmates’ disgusting habits to strangers than talk the problem out. And when troublesome topics do come up, there’s usually a decent job done at handling them. But I don’t really know that for sure. And I have no assurances as to how long this quality of moderation can last. For the moment, we’re relying on the benevolence of an unknown Oxtyrant to get by; like Kim Jong-Un, their hand may drift over to the big red button anytime. I don’t think Oxford’s subconscious should be like that – no, we as students simply cannot abide such a thing. We have bent all the other student platforms to our will; now we must seize the means of communication!
But I’m not entitled to demand that Oxfess open itself up to scrutiny; none of us are. At the same time, we need to be aware that, as long as we continue to consume content on Oxfess, we will be subjected to the yoke of media tyranny. Only we can emancipate ourselves.
The clearest solution is to return to democratic and transparent student forums – student newspapers and the like. Fat chance of that. Who’d be arrogant enough to imagine that a ghastly echo-chamber like Cherwell genuinely represents Oxford students? Oxfess has the anonymity and convenience that lets us be as deranged as we want. That isn’t unique to Oxfess, however – any anonymous confessions page can do that too. So maybe the answer is a competitor to Oxfess, one that’s of, by, and for the students. But problems here arise too. Oxfess simply has the first-mover advantage, the name recognition, the prestige that takes years to build; like Murdoch’s media monopoly, it is too big to fail. It is too entrenched to be seriously challenged, let alone displaced, by some new page. The only chance for such a thing to succeed would be for the SU to fund it, and that means SU oversight. Who wants them in charge of anything that’s actually important? At least our current despot has some sense of humour. I shudder to imagine a regime run by the SU – they’d probably ban Oxhates.
As far as solutions go, nothing seems immediately visible. Unless some new idea can come up that can displace Oxfess, we will continue to be mind-controlled by this murky despot, the Rupert Murdoch of Oxford. How long do we want to continue like this?