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February 12, 2015

Campus crush saga

Viewpoints columnist Liam Leddy sits down with the editors of UChicago Crushes, the university’s most loved Facebook page.

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Created in March 2013, UChicago Crushes has swiftly become an important piece of our campus culture. For the uninitiated (I bet there are like six of you, although, if I’ve now made you feel bad for being one of them, I apologize), UChicago Crushes is a student-operated Facebook page to which anyone can submit anonymous missives proclaiming their affection for any given student (or sometimes faculty member, group, item, or any other kind of noun, really). The crushes are then posted for the world to see, their intended targets get tagged in the comments, and everyone’s day gets brighter. Today, the page has 4,215 likes, and the number of crushes on the page is more than 18,000. Everybody wants to receive a crush, and there is obviously a healthy number of people writing them. But perhaps the most crucial link in the chain remains a mystery. Who’s posting the crushes? Most people are aware that someone edits UChicago Crushes, but almost no one knows who. Who is crazy/passionate/kind-hearted enough to devote their time to brightening the days of others in exchange for little more than good karma? Who’s behind the curtain?

I’d asked myself those questions for a long time. So I finally took the plunge. I messaged Crushes and asked if they’d be willing to sit down and tell me about the page, why and how they run it, and where it’s going. And being the benevolent and kind souls that they are, they obliged.

Yes, I said they, as in multiple people. But that wasn’t always the case. When the page began, there was only one editor, which then grew to two, and eventually to the current handful. Almost two years since its founding, running UChicago Crushes, while certainly not a trivial task, is a fair sight simpler than it once was. In the page’s early days, the first editor, who has since graduated, ran the page using Google spreadsheets, and had to copy and paste every crush to Facebook, which, given the speed with which Crushes became popular, quickly became something of a hassle. As one of the current editors told me, “The first editor got really tired. If you look at the things that we published in 2013, which are still on Facebook, we published once every week, just because there were so many submissions and we don’t have that much time.” But since then, both manpower and innovation have grown. Seeing that there was a need to streamline the posting process, Crushes brought on new members to develop a tool to do just that. The result is AnonyMonkey, an open-platform web service that allows pages like Crushes to both anonymize submissions and post directly to its Facebook page without copying and pasting anything. Editors can even use the service on their phones, meaning they can post from anywhere, whether they’re bored at a party or simply don’t want to start their math homework. The upshot? “Now, if I publish in the morning once and at night once, it’ll be 10 minutes or so every time.”

AnonyMonkey has worked so well that it now supports thousands of pages, including the Crushes equivalents for schools like St. Andrews University, National Taiwan University, and even our favorite rival, Harvard. The service has made posting crushes remarkably easier, but as one of the editors told me, there are two different sides to managing the page. One is maintaining AnonyMonkey. The other? “People who moderate the content to make sure there’s no bad stuff going through, and are checking messages so that if someone demands to have a post taken down for privacy reasons, we can respond to them.” It turns out that running customer service for UChicago Crushes isn’t all fun and games. While we all know that love can be high-stakes, sometimes the Crushes editors get caught in the middle of it. “We receive some angry messages: ‘Tell me who this is, or I’m gonna, you know, do something to you.’” This was the one bit of information I was requested to relay to the dear submitters: editors are human, and they make mistakes, so please treat them kindly when you ask them to take down a crush or tell you who submitted one.

But the latter request seems to be a not-too-uncommon one. While AnonyMonkey prevents the editors from knowing who submits crushes anyway, it’s a natural desire to want to connect with people who dig you, and see if, perhaps, the feeling is mutual. As of now, Crushes is an online receptacle for love, but most, if not all, of the affection is unrequited. As the editors told me, “Right now, when people post on UChicago Crushes, the biggest problem people have is that it’s really one-sided. There’s no bridge in between; they can’t actually connect with people.” Well, the Crushes editors are looking to change that. Building on the success of AnonyMonkey, they’re developing a Crushes app that will allow users to post content both anonymously and under a username, as well as to have anonymous chats with their crushes if they like. “We want to build a bridge between the people who are writing the crushes and the people who are receiving them, and that’s what the app is going to do.” AnonyMonkey and diligent content management are the crux of Crushes now, but the app may well take over that role in the future.

There are, of course, minutiae to running Crushes beyond the simple “how it works”; these are funny tidbits that don’t really affect the page’s functioning, but are nice to know anyway. Like the fact that Crushes editors do get crushes, and they perhaps don’t always publish them. “I got a few in the past. Some of them I deleted, first because I didn’t know who they were, and second because at that time I was dating someone. But most of them I publish just like normal ones. And of course it cheers us up. It’s like, ‘Yes, I did something right today!’” There’s also the dilemma of how many people you tell that you’re involved with the page. One of the editors I spoke to hadn’t told anybody, while the other had let it slip to their roommate. And, finally, there are those times when people go a little crazy with self-love: “I know this guy. All of his friends knew he really wanted to be on Crushes, so they sent in like 20 or 30 crushes, just about him.”

I learned a lot about UChicago Crushes in one interview, things both important about the page and relatively trivial, and thankfully I’ve been able to share them here. But, as for who’s behind the curtain? Well, knowing that would ruin all of the fun. People use and look at UChicago Crushes mainly because they like receiving crushes and reading them, but a fraction of the page’s appeal is due to not knowing exactly who’s behind it. Because as much as we love hearing about how damn cute we look in our new rain boots, we also enjoy some well-crafted mystique. And that mystique likely won’t go away anytime soon. The editors bring in fresh blood on a regular basis to make sure the page will live on after they graduate. Indeed, one of the editors I spoke to was a fourth-year, the other a first-year. So, don’t worry, the crushes will keep coming.

I’m not gonna lie: Even if I can’t tell you guys, seeing who was behind the curtain for myself was pretty cool. But more than their identities, what I wanted to know about the editors was why. Why do those who edit the page continue to do it? “First, people are using it. If there are no submissions, why the hell are we doing it? There’s a huge demand for it... And I guess we’re doing something good for the community, and it makes us feel good. This is a place that we care about.” This was the sentiment from both editors I talked to, that this truly is something they do because they care about our campus and the people on it. They care about the UChicago student body more than I, or I really think most people, do, and they make sure to impact all of us in a positive way.

But the page is also, if you think about it, quite clever. It’s fitting really that the editors’ mystique is generated from their anonymity, because that’s the beauty of the page: They’ve figured out how to make anonymity on the Internet a good thing. The inhibitions and nerves that keep us from approaching our crushes in person are a little less strong online. And in a collegiate world being overrun by Yik Yak, it’s nice to see proof that anonymity can be used for good. As one editor put it, “The things that we don’t say, we say through the page. And they’re positive things, and we like to bring that atmosphere to campus.” So you could call it the power of love, or the power of anonymity that allows UChicago Crushes to brighten our days and our campus. But we also shouldn’t forget the students that make the whole thing possible. Thanks to them, and happy Valentine’s Day.

Liam Leddy is a third- year in the College majoring in economics.

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