Greenwich Compliments’s goal is to create a counterbalance to the negative impact social media can have on young people. A 2015 Pew report, “Teens, Technology and Friendships,” suggests that 21 percent of teens feel worse about themselves after using social media, and that 65 percent of teens with college-educated parents have found out about a party or event they weren’t invited to on social media after the fact.
The Greenwich Compliments founder, a 20-something Greenwich High School graduate who returned to her hometown after college (her name has been omitted from this story so that she can continue to run the site anonymously), vets all submissions to ensure they are true compliments and not insults wrapped in compliments’ clothing. Then she reprints the compliment as posts from Greenwich Compliments, and Facebook users who have joined Greenwich Compliments see compliments filtering through their newsfeeds.
To ensure no one feels left out, the founder also tries to keep track of anyone who follows the page but hasn’t received a compliment, occasionally dispensing a compliment of her own when she notices someone’s been overlooked.
“Words matter,” she says. “Negative comments and thoughts tend to grow like weeds. I say ‘you aren’t athletic,’ the seed is planted. Then in Gym you’re the last guy picked for a team. That single idea keeps growing. Positive comments are similar; they just grow a lot slower. It’s easier for you to believe me when I say ‘you’re ugly’ than when I say ‘you’re beautiful.’”
Compliments are often discounted depending on their source, too. A “you’re beautiful” carries less weight from your mom than from a cute guy at a party. When compliments are anonymous, they could be from anybody. “It feeds into that curiosity factor of the internet and builds a sense of mystery, but in a positive way rather than a negative way,” says Ashton Armstrong, a 19-year-old Greenwich High School graduate who now works as a landscaper in town.
Armstrong reports that the Greenwich Compliments founder has become something of a sounding board in town for teens seeking someone safe to speak with. The founder confirms that several have private-messaged her in a crisis, or to ask for advice or simply vent.
According to the social-media scholar and youth researcher danah boyd, anonymity has always been important for teens. She references the old tradition of “Dear Diary.” “Trust is built in complicated ways,” she says. “And there’s a lot of value in speaking to ‘nobody.’”
But for Facebook, anonymity is a big no-no. In May, the behemoth social networking platform locked the original Greenwich Compliments profile, preventing the founder from logging in, reviewing compliments, and tagging complimentees. Citing the company’s identity policies, a Facebook representative explained that in the great majority of cases, anonymous accounts set up with fictional names are used to shame and harass other people.