EXCLUSIVE: We spoke to the Oxfess admins to answer all your burning questions

How do I become an admin!!

For the past decade Facebook’s audience among university students has been in decline. Slowly but surely students have drifted, first to Instagram and then to TikTok. Status updates went first. Then saw the death of dumping your entire camera roll from first term into a Facebook album. It surely can’t be long before Facebook Events are a thing of the past. And yet, through all of that, there’s one outlier. A page that has not only held onto its loyal Facebook audience, it’s grown it.

Launched in 2017, Oxfess boasts approximately 55,000 individual users each week. In fact, the Oxford University confessions page has an audience twice the size of the university student population. It recently broke its own record – hitting almost one million page views in a month. This hasn’t come without setbacks. The page has at times faced criticism for the content of some of its posts. It’s faced the wrath of Facebook, having been banned by the platform numerous times (the current page has stood since 2020). But in the face of this, it has kept bouncing back. Now on the verge of launching an Oxfess app, it begs the question: what can possibly explain the confession page’s enduring success?

It’s simple, according to the admins. “Oxfess is an equaliser,” they tell The Oxford Tab. “It’s a unique place where everyone is equal and doesn’t have to worry about how they are perceived. That’s very empowering.

“Regardless of what college you are at, what you study, or what you do with your time, Oxfess is something that everyone can relate to,” they add.

The admins have agreed to speak to The Oxford Tab under complete anonymity, but we have been able to piece some clues together. The Oxfess team is made up of two tiers. There is a larger group of approximately 20 moderators who manage all the submissions that come in – they decide whether your drunkenly sent 1am Oxfess is worth publishing or is better left unseen. They don’t however have the ability to put the post on Facebook, that decision is then taken by the core admins. The two lead admins are both computer science students and most of the team come from one college.

So, how do you go about convincing one of these elusive 20 students to approve your post?

The first thing to say is don’t be disheartened if you’ve had multiple posts rejected. The admins say they receive “anywhere between 100-200 [submissions each day] depending on what’s happening”. “We usually try and publish about 20-50 posts a day, sometimes more if there’s a particularly hot topic on people’s minds.

“It’s always tricky deciding what to put out. The longer the post is, it is usually more delayed in getting out because we want to have someone read it over fully. Posts that are about a particular recent event or something happening in real time get priority. Obviously, funny and entertaining posts get a big bump.”

They add: “A lot of the time a topic will be going on endlessly and we sometimes just have to pull the plug and stop letting through posts about it because it’ll just drag on for ages.” Of course Hamish Nash and Shu Huang relentlessly tagging each other in the comments section seems to have escaped this rule.

The admins believe the university’s setup and culture, in part, accounts for Oxfess’ success. “Since Oxford is so decentralised, we have few institutions that really bridge that divide, Oxfess bridges that divide”, they say. Beyond the geographical borders however, they argue the page is a “form of escapism” from the pressures of being an Oxford student. “Everyone has issues they are dealing with, they have questions, and being able to ask for anonymous help and see that, ‘hey actually, I’m not the only one feeling this way’ can be really liberating for people.

“It’s really gratifying seeing when someone in the comments offers help or advice to someone, and it’s incredibly rewarding to feel like you’ve helped take care of this community over your time at Oxford.

“There’s also the fun of just being in the queue at Pret and scrolling through submissions to accept or reject and knowing that there’s a good chance someone upstairs is going to see those posts pop up on their newsfeeds soon.”

How do you get yourself the keys to accessing all of Oxford’s gossip and become an admin of the page?

We’ve got bad news for you on that front. The admins admitted a high concentration of them come from one particular college and were hand-selected with a note being left in their pidges. “You tend to scout people you know,” the admins explain. Beyond the nepotism route, application processes do open from time to time.

“We’re really determined on Oxfess not being a self-perpetuating clique. We normally look for people that have displayed some form of community management. They might have created a meme page, managed a Discord server somewhere – it tends to be people who enjoy the nitty-gritty work without getting credit publicly.”

The admins readily admit “past iterations of Oxfess have had issues with diversity” but they believe this is a reflection of the university’s own diversity. “Without revealing too much about our team, we are almost even on gender, and slightly more ethnically diverse than the rest of Oxford.” Bare in mind however, the university’s most recent stats don’t make for impressive reading. Three quarters of home-based students are white, 3.5 per cent are black.

If the selection process and diversity is perhaps left wanting, diversity of thought is at the heart of what Oxfess stands for and its new app promises even more.

The app is currently in its testing phase with a small group of students currently having access to the app to help the admins fine tune and iron out any problems. There are two big changes coming to the Oxfess app. You will no longer need to send a submission and anxiously wait hours to see if it makes it to Facebook. The app will publish posts instantaneously. Alongside this, not only will the posts be anonymous, all the comments will equally be anonymous.

Does this liberation mean the platform could be exposed to users sending hateful and abusive messages?

Not according to the admins. They say the increased anonymity will “bring the community closer together”. They are relying on a system of upvotes and downvotes to spot inappropriate comments. “We have an algorithm that can detect if a post should be immediately taken down based on the proportion of downvotes, reports and flagged words. In other words, if something obviously bad gets posted, it will get taken down incredibly quickly.

“Any post that accrues a majority of downvotes gets automatically sent to a moderator to double-check it.”

The Oxfess admins are characteristically Oxonian; they certainly don’t lack ambition. There are “obvious risks” to their new venture but their excitement for what they’ve built is palpable.

“Because of the instantaneous nature of the app, we think it will be more like an ongoing anonymous chat in real-time. It’s like being able to tap on your phone and instantly get plugged in to what people around you are saying.

“Think of it this way – you have Twitter to see what everyone around the world is saying, but where can you go to find out what people around you are saying? People want authenticity and they want community.”

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