I've been visiting this site for a couple of years now, on and off. There's no doubt that for anyone who finds reading the opinions of unknown citizens posted on forums and messageboards, grouphug.us is probably the ultimate in voyeurism.
For those of you who haven't seen the site before, it consists of a simple interface whereby visitors can get things off their chests in a completely anonmous way. The similarities between this site and the traditional Catholic confessional are obvious. Both seem to have been developed on the wisdom that it's better not to 'bottle things up'. As things have changed over the last few decades, teenagers and other web users are probably far more likely to feel happy 'confessing' their sins, desires, crimes, even lonliness, online than they would in a church.
The thing about confessional websites, however, is their differences from the Catholic confessional. For one thing, visitors to grouphug.us can read and search other visitors' confessions. This is not an invasion of privacy, as submissions are completely anonymous – and the vast number of people acting on the internet's stage creates a sort of desperate anonymity of its own. The site is, however, providing entertainment of some sort. Strange.
The main difference that I feel when reading many of these confessions is that there's no input from others. In a confessional, the priest generally offers words of advice, suggests pennance and finally offers absolution. Grouphug.us doesn't (and probably couldn't) offer this sort of dedicated attention. The site's designed for anonymity and voyeurism above all else. I think that this is pretty sad.
I'm also worried by the level of clearly sociopathic behaviour which is confessed to online. Do bad people feel better when they confess to their crimes on a website? Sadly, the answer is probably 'yes'. Do they deserve that sense of absolution? I don't think so… the hoops we have to jump through are our lives, not a distraction from them.
This site is another piece of the puzzle for me… how can something so largely fatuous and insubstantial as the internet hold such a sway over me? I'm employed by it, entertained by it, absorbed in it, a keen participator in it, yet I increasingly realise how much I loathe it. That's my confession… where's the pennance, the absolution?