Anonymous and angry

Mary Ward and Max Hall are two of the five people who know who runs USYD Rants

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“I’m sitting against the back seats on the left hand side, with a black and white patterned top on.”

We meet in Carslaw Kitchen at 11:15am on a Friday. She says she’s in her third year of a commerce degree, but doesn’t want us to print her major. She doesn’t say her name, and has previously only spoken with us through a Facebook account she made with a pseudonym.

“No one knows that I run this page,” she says. “No one. Not even my friends.”

Over the next hour, the founder of USYD Rants (“The Founder”) eats tinned pineapple with a plastic fork and explains how she came to be the anonymous admin of one of the University’s most important online institutions.

The USYD Rants Facebook page started in 2014, when The Founder was in first year.

She was a fan of another anonymous submission page, USYD Love Letters, but felt there was something missing from the genre.

“Love letters, you know, are all the same: ‘I love you’, blah blah blah, ‘we’re meant to be together’,” she says. “[With] rants, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.”

She messaged USYD Love Letters, to ask if they could share a link to her new page, “USYD Rants”. They did, and the page received its first rant: “I fucking hate Engineering. I was an Engo for a while and I got stabbed in the back by people I thought were friends. Screw them and I hope they’re miserable in their 9-5 jobs.”

Over time – after many complaints about the Redfern Run and the state of the Law School bathrooms – the page has grown to over 11,000 likes.

“It is quite powerful, I suppose,” she says. “Think about it, 11,000 people… that’s extremely powerful, [but] it’s actually pretty daunting as well.”

As the page grew, so did the workload. In January, The Founder decided she needed a break and posted on the page asking for someone to take over.

“Are you Max?”

We meet the new admin of USYD Rants (“The New Admin”) at the bottom level of Manning. She is a third-year science student, but politely asks that we don’t publish her name or major. We are allowed to publish that she eats nachos on Thursdays.

The New Admin also created USYD Lost & Found after finding a USB last year. The page has subsequently grown to over 700 likes. She thinks this experience might have given her an advantage among the 100 people who applied to take over the admin role on USYD Rants.

“There are some people I knew who would just use it as something to get what they wanted,” The Founder says. “Whereas the person I did end up giving the role to I know will manage it spot on, maybe even better than I did.”

The New Admin has only told one person about her new position: her boyfriend, who is not a university student.

“As soon as you put a face to something, something changes about it,” she says. “I couldn’t tell you what it is.”

The Founder and The New Admin are the only two admins on the page. They have never met in real life.

The work involved in running USYD Rants is enormous. The page can receive anywhere between 20 and 100 submissions each day. These must then be read, chosen for publication, edited if necessary (both The Founder and The New Admin are self-identified grammar pedants) and then uploaded.

According to the two admins, 90 to 95 per cent of rants submitted are posted, and those removed are nearly always because they are irrelevant or excessively offensive.

“You don’t want to be too politically correct because you want people to have a voice,” says the New Admin, admitting that freedom of speech was the main thing she expected to be asked about during our interview.

She suggests controversial posts are part of what the page is “supposed to be”.

“I mean, not everyone might agree with you, but we still live in a country where we’re able to do that.”

“Because it’s anonymous no one cares what they say. A lot of [the rants] are derogatory, very racist, very sexist, very discriminatory towards degrees,” The Founder says. “I do try to post a few controversial posts, but not controversial in the sense that it’s extremely offensive.”

Hate mail comes with the territory. The Founder has a fake Facebook account to prevent herself from accidentally outing herself on the page.

“I received a death threat once. Obviously it’s not serious, they’re not going to know who I am, but that’s why I’ve made the pseudonym account.”

“I don’t take anything to heart because at the end of the day it is a rants page,” she says. “They do have the right to rant, whether it be at me or anyone else.”

Even in her short time managing the page, The New Admin has experienced the downside of anonymous submissions.

“You think that you’re doing a good job and then someone comes along and says, ‘No, you’re doing terrible!’ And it just gets you down for a bit. But you have to remember that it’s just one person.”

Both admins are all too aware of the fate of their peers. Spotted: USYD, a page with over 23,000 likes, has not posted since May 2015. The Founder remarks that many similar pages seem to be “dying down”.

The New Admin holds a deep respect for the page and its founder.

“What she did was really quite original and really something different. It was her brainchild and I have to keep up the integrity of the page.”

We ask The New Admin what she thinks the average user of USYD Rants looks like. “I suppose I just imagine the average user to be anyone I see around campus.”

And, trust us, after sitting with them in some of campus’ most mundane locations, talking about annoyingly long labs and crappy food on campus, the admins of USYD Rants are as average as you.