NUSWhispers: Discourse or Discord?

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NUSWhispers, the famous NUS confessions page, was started in 2015 in the wake of many similar confession pages. By now, we may be familiar with the origin story of the platform—the founding team, consisting of Melvin, Erin and Yichen, built it as part of their course project under CS3226, a Web Programming and Applications module. However, despite its humble origins, the platform has now become one of the most popular Singaporean confession pages; someone has even made a spin-off site that analyses the platform’s most popular topics and words, and includes a graph that showcases the fluctuations in student sentiment (i.e. happiness) across the semester. 

Based on historical data, it seems like we are nearing a peak in sentiment.
Based on historical data, it seems like we are nearing a peak in sentiment.

A Page for Personal Problems 

Rice Media’s article on NUSWhispers succinctly summarizes the 5 top concerns that Singaporeans have. From random non-school related personal problems such as “In a happy committed long-term relationship but I can’t stop thinking about this girl I met two weeks ago,” to opinions on NUS policies like  “Cashless payments don’t make sense…,” (referring to NUS’s announcement to roll out cashless payments across campus back in April) it seems like nothing’s off-limits. 

Though most posts are permutations of those 5 central themes, they never fail to stir up outrage and/or attention each time another one is posted. This aspect has led some users, such as Loius Leonard (fake name used for a throwaway account), to habitually browse the page because they enjoy the “relative chaos on NUSWhispers.”

Recently however, NUSWhispers has become more “saturated by non-NUS students,” which led pre-existing users to feel that some of the new submission can be  “pretty toxic.” This sentiment/thought prompted Gary, a former Top Fan (awarded to those who are the most active and engaged on a page) of the page, to be less engaged with commenting on the posts. 

Adding on, Loius makes the observation that the platform “attracts a particular demographic of frivolous activism and particularly needy people that isn’t a good representation of people as a whole.”

Does this mean that NUSWhispers is doomed to be a cesspool of frivolous complaints?

Raising Relevant Issues

While most obviously made-up confessions have been largely filtered out, others concerning NUS policies have been anything but irrelevant—who could ever forget the hurricane that was the CS1010 plagiarism saga, that gained notoriety because of its prominence on NUSWhispers?

These posts shed light on the issues faced by students, such as NUS’s zoning policy and complaints about inadequate TAs (which became a copypasta meme).

Occasionally, students from various faculties have also raised genuine complaints regarding teaching staff, studio spaces and campuses. 

Top Fans and Prof Ben

Though these posts may be anonymous, their comments come from a familiar crowd. 

Professor Ben Leong’s (known colloquially as ‘Prof Ben’) prominence appears to legitimise the platform as a way to communicate with school authorities. When asked to comment on his experience of NUSWhispers, he said, 

“Think of me as a security guard? I am just patrolling from time to time so that nothing bad happens? :-)”

Despite that, he makes the assertion: “I don’t think NUSWhispers is a forum for discussion. You cannot really have a discussion when one side is anonymous and there’s no 2-way comms.” 

Prof Ben seems to regard patrolling the page as one of his many duties as a “CS Department Teaching Chair for a couple of years,” citing that as a reason to frequent NUSWhispers. 

When asked whether he would encourage fellow staff to engage on NUSWhispers, his answer was simply “No. Time sink.” 

Loius, on the other hand, believes that NUSWhispers “certainly promotes some discussion of issues that will never surface otherwise.” With reference to the relevant issues mentioned earlier, there may be some truth in this. 

Further insight shared by Top Fans of the site reveal that ultimately, the community is made up of people that are simultaneously willing to lend helpful encouragement and berate the confessor to his or her senses.

Insight from Loius
Insight from Gary

Alternative social media platforms

Beyond Facebook and NUSWhispers, Reddit is also becoming a popular page for students to post their thoughts. The sub-reddit r/nus has 8.0K members who postbout school-related matters. As posts on Reddit are not anonymous, there exists a smaller amount of “troll posts.”

Just as NUSWhispers has Prof Ben, r/nus has its own Professor Tucker Kellogg. In his recent Reddit post, Prof. Kellog gathered advice on what tutors can do to make online classes better. The post garnered many comments, and he later summarized his actions in a follow up post.  

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a meme page on Instagram, @nus_memes is perhaps the most active informal, NUS-related account on the platform. 

Final Words

Those platforms exist as students need an outlet to vent their frustrations, be it because of life, or the chasm that they feel exists between them and school leaders. Given that the pages are so important for students to feel somewhat connected (especially during the pandemic period where some people are completely cut off from school activities), it is crucial that the pages remain civil. 

On the subject of advocating causes however, being a public and anonymous platform, NUSWhispers offers limited use to those seeking help for legitimate personal problems and complaints about school policies. Henceforth, students with legitimate mental health or official school-related concerns should instead seek to clarify their doubts through more formal platforms. 

The Ridge would like to thank Prof Ben, Gary and Loius for providing their thoughts on NUSWhispers.

What are your thoughts on the confession page? Are there any NUSWhispers topics that you would like us to cover in depth? Write in to us at: