'Compliments' creator tackles Penn culture
The student behind Penn Compliments reveals his intentions but not his identity
December 4, 2012, 10:32 pm·
As the holidays approach this year, Penn students may be feeling a little more cheery all thanks to one Facebook page.
This page, called Penn Compliments, has posted more than 500 anonymously-submitted compliments about different students since its inception.
The compliments also addresses various student groups, and even animals. One compliment about squirrels, for example, received 270 likes as of 10 p.m. Tuesday night. “UPenn Squirrels, don’t ever change. You guys are so fat and furry, always with an oversized piece of food/garbage in your cheeky little cheeks, it’s adorable. I love all you guys,” the post said.
On Nov. 14, a Penn student, who wished to stay anonymous to preserve the intent behind the page, saw that a friend had been tagged in a compliment on Columbia’s equivalent page created earlier in the day and thought it would be a “cool idea” to start it on Penn’s campus.
“The whole point of this project is to learn to do good and spread good,” he said. “One of the reasons why I thought this was needed at Penn is that it can be a pretty high-stress, competitive environment here, at times even negative.”
Several who have received compliments on the page agreed. Graduate School of Education first-year Shameem Balakrishnan said this is a welcome respite for the Penn community. Balakrishnan, who also attended Penn as an undergraduate, said, “I’ve always complained about the mentality on this campus.… The mentality to succeed … is so extreme that people have honestly forgotten about what matters at the end of day, which is your friendships and the people around you.”
Nursing junior Joi Reynolds said the Facebook community enhances the posted compliments. “For me, it was also about how many agreed with it and liked it.” She added that the anonymity distinguishes it from an everyday compliment. “It’s nice to feel like someone out there feels that … you are appreciated and you are making a difference.”
Started at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in September, the compliments page has been adapted for more than 50 schools all over the world, including a recent addition of the National University of Singapore, according to Penn Compliments.
Marketing professor Jonah Berger, who studies social contagion, attributed the success of the concept to its positive nature. “It’s contagious because it’s self-propagating. Getting a compliment informs people about the site and encourages them to pass it on and compliment others, furthering the diffusion of the site,” he said in an email.
The page, however, has not come without any snags, largely due to Facebook’s limitations. After a certain point, Penn Compliments could not send friend requests and messages — only receive them. Before this limitation, he had been replying to compliment-senders, thanking them for “taking part in spreading happiness and positivity on our campus.”
In addition, he has had to ask a few people to revise their comments for foul language, political comments, extensive use of a foreign language and lack of a designation of a specific recipient.
“The larger aim is to spread positivity on campus, and I think that goal is more important than just being a vehicle for people to anonymously post messages, even if those are well-intentioned,” he said. “Nobody should come to [the page] and be offended by it. Their entire experience should be positive.”
The few people who were asked to revise their comments were understanding, he said.
Penn Compliments said that the next step for the page will try to encourage more kindness in the offline lives of students.
Though some have been curious about the identity of the person who runs the page, Penn Compliments refused to reveal his identity — even turning down an interview with Time magazine — as he believes it goes against the philosophy of the page.
In addition to not wanting recognition for doing a good deed, he feared that people may trust the page less if they associate a face with it. The creator of the page stated that he doesn’t want people to feel like they’re being judged for their compliments.
“To have the experience where you will not be recognized for it … is a powerful one, and just as you all are experiencing it, so am I,” he said.