Image via Shashi Bellamkonda on Flickr.
Last night, PostSecret founder Frank Warren completed the website’s weekly update. The long-running site, an interactive art project in which people send their secrets to be anonymously posted, typically displays a mix of homemade cards, some with uplifting affirmations and others with embarrassing confessions.
But the most recent post contained something disconcerting: a postcard with a satellite picture of an unidentified location along with a note proclaiming, “I said she dumped me, but really I dumped her (body).”
The website does see its fair share of disturbing content. In the past, I’ve seen cards referencing sexual assault, suicide, eating disorders, and other similarly tragic subject matter. But never before have I seen a murder confession.
Curious about the implications for PostSecret and disturbed both by the potential truth and misogyny of the card, I emailed Warren for more information. “I do not know if that secret is true,” he told me, “but I am sure that story has been real.”
Image courtesy of Frank Warren/PostSecret.
When asked if he felt conflicted sharing the postcard, he said no. “I feel exposing all the information from that secret is important. However, there are some secrets that I am reluctant to share on the web.” I prodded him for more detail, but he didn't answer that particular question.
"I hope people will judge PostSecret by the whole of the project, not just one card," Warren said. He also noted that he has received over 500,000 postcards since he began in 2005 and so, of course, he has previously seen some pretty troubling content emerge from his mailbox. I asked him if those sorts of moments make him question the larger enterprise and its dedication to anonymity.
“In most cases, including this one, I believe it is healthy to shine a light on dark secrets,” he explained. “In this case, for example, maybe the secret leads to solving a crime, or reminds women that they are much more likely to be hurt on a date with someone they know than a complete stranger.”
As of our email conversation last night, Warren had not yet contacted the police, but said he will cooperate if the situation arises. However, the internet is already on the case: the amateur sleuths of Reddit uncovered the location displayed on the card in less than an hour. All signs point to Wooded Island in Chicago, Illinois.
It’s worth noting again that this secret very well may not be true. This could easily be some expert trolling. But whether or not this is some not-so-elaborate fiction, it does ask us to to re-examine the basis of PostSecret as an uncensored repository of people’s best and worst tendencies. Even if it this isn’t an actual confession, isn't it just a matter of time until a real one comes along? And is that a bad thing?
Update: According to the Chicago Tribune, a police search did not turn up anything, "but the information was passed on to Chicago detectives."