Anonymous student-run Instagram account aims to spread positivity

Katie Spillman

Photo illustration of a student displaying the Instagram account on their cell phone.

Student social media use has been the subject of much scorn, with critics citing the web as an enabler of online harassment and cyberbullying. Others, however, view this same technology as a pipeline for positivity.

Sophomore Zane Alshekhlee recalls the moment when he first discovered the Instagram account Through the messaging service Sarahah, students submit words of encouragement for fellow students to the account’s anonymous operator, who amplifies the message to hundreds of Instagram followers.

“My phone gave me a little ding and said, ‘Hey, you’ve been tagged on this account.’ I didn’t expect it at all,” Alshekhlee said of a Sept. 14 post from the account.

The account manager, who requested to remain anonymous, was inspired to create after suffering from the cycle of isolation they hope to break.

“I had a really bad experience junior year. It was a rough time for me and I felt really alone. I went into the year and I felt that I really didn’t have a lot of friends,” the senior account operator said. “As I started making friends, I realized that so many others had the same experience of not having friends. I just wanted to spread that message that even if you think you aren’t wanted or needed, people do care about you, whether you know it or not.”

Not only does the face behind the account prefer to maintain their anonymity, but students who choose to leave compliments also remain unknown. Sophomore Katie Solodar believes this facet of the procedure ensures that the platform will not devolve into a popularity contest.

“I do like that it’s anonymous. It’s really nice to have a positive outlet like that,” Solodar said. “I feel like if it wasn’t [anonymous], it would get turned into all the praise for that person [sending the message] and that’s not really what it’s about, which is really cool.”

In spite of finding himself on the receiving end of numerous messages shared through Instagram, Alshekhlee lauds the experience of spreading positivity by sending comments.

“A lot of times I say things about my friends on there. It’s fun getting their reactions out of it when no one knows it’s you, but you know it’s you,” Alshekhlee said. “It’s nice to be able to say things openly and not have everyone know it’s you.”

The account’s manager concurs that the element of anonymity can empower students who otherwise might not voice themselves.

It might seem far, but in a few months, this account will need a new owner who will continue to post compliments and spread positivity. I hope, with someone’s help, this little project of mine will outlive my time at West.”

— anonymous account operator

“When I was a freshman, they told us that you want to have an impact on this school. If I’m going to have one impact, I hope it’s this,” the operator said. “It will only become my legacy if I share who I am. I think there’s power in an anonymous voice because it shows that anyone who’s kind, when you strip away all the popularity and biases you have towards a name, can make a difference.”

Parkway has made a concerted effort to champion various anti-bullying campaigns for years, but utilizes a ‘by students, for students’ approach as opposed to character-building lessons in a traditional classroom setting.

“[Teachers push Common Ground] on us and it gets treated as a joke. They approach it in an awkward way for us to do it,” Solodar said. “The way the account does it, it’s nice how it’s anonymous so you can share out your problems and then people will comment, help you out and give their advice. It brings people together to acquire a more empathetic point of view and perspective on the school.”

Even as the account operator is set to graduate this May, they fully intend to continue promoting a more inclusive environment by passing the baton to a new manager for the 2018-19 school year and beyond.

“It might seem far, but in a few months, this account will need a new owner who will continue to post compliments and spread positivity. I hope, with someone’s help, this little project of mine will outlive my time at West,” the account operator said in a post on Feb. 11. “You must be going into your sophomore year this fall. This is only so that you are familiar with people in the West community. Everyone can have their shot at this eventually. If you are interested in running this account, don’t hesitate to DM me. Also spread the word to friends who might be interested.”