Dara Marans, CC ’14, was toiling away on a paper in the library when a simple Facebook post brightened her day.
The post was from Columbia Compliments, a Facebook account started by a group of Columbia undergraduate students this week to “spread love, see people smile, and ultimately make this world a better place,” the group said in an email.
Columbia Compliments posts anonymous compliments and kind messages to members of the Columbia community who are friends with the account on Facebook. Anyone can send a direct message to Columbia Compliments—provided the message is positive—and the group will publish it anonymously and tag the recipient in the post.
“I just sat in the library smiling,” Marans said. “It made me feel really good.”
The organizers of Columbia Compliments—who have asked to remain anonymous to maintain the character of the project—started the Facebook account midday Tuesday and began sending out compliments that evening.
Since then, they have posted roughly 500 compliments, and more continue to roll in. By early Thursday morning, the Columbia Compliments account had 1,851 Facebook friends.
“Columbia is a place that needs something like this, and we saw the opportunity to make people’s lives here better,” the organizers said. “We all know how quickly the flu catches on, but the same can be said about things that are good for us.”
Marans called the initiative “infectious.”
“There’s obviously a real space for it on campus, just considering the fast growth,” she said.
Rebecca Smith, CC ’13 and a compliment recipient, said that the fact that the initiative started spontaneously, instead of as a response to a tragic event, showed “how much people support each other.”
“Here, I’ve met some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” she said. “It’s really nice to have that become a movement.”
Marans said that the anonymity of the page helped to provide students with a space in which they could be more honest with one another.
“Being in an anonymous forum creates a sense of comfort for people to share their thoughts about their friends or even people that they’re not friends with,” Marans said. “It breaks down barriers between students.”
Smith also said that the anonymity added a sense of excitement to the compliments.
“I read the compliments, and I was trying to figure out who wrote them, and I just couldn’t figure out who it was,” she said.
Cole Diamond, SEAS ’13, agreed. “It’s a nice surprise to see that you have some sort of secret admirer, if you will,” he said. “It just gives you a good feeling to know that perhaps a stranger or a friend is on your side.”
Some students who submitted compliments said that the reason they sent them was not because they were afraid to say them in person, but because they thought that the anonymity gave them an extra layer of enjoyment.
“The compliments that I gave, I’ve said the same things to those people in person before,” Wilfred Chan, CC ’13 and founder of the Student Wellness Project, said. “It’s fun when it’s anonymous because it could be anyone, and I think that’s part of the charm of this particular project.”
Chan added that “this is a very visible type of random act of kindness, but I do think the one thing we forget is that there are hundreds of invisible acts of kindness that take place on our campus every day, and I guess it’s just a nice reminder that there is real love and compassion on this campus.”
Smith said that the anonymity made compliments seem like general truths.
“Not just one person thinks someone appreciates you. It could be anyone,” she said. “And you see all the other people who liked it.”
Diamond said it was a good contrast to see something positive go viral.
“I’m glad that Columbia could be part of this viral trend for good will instead of something more vitriolic, which is usually the case,” he said.
A Facebook page called Columbia Insults was created on Wednesday evening, seemingly as a satirical response to Columbia Compliments. As of Wednesday night, the account has 17 friends.
Columbia Compliments is based on a social project started by students at Queens University in Ontario, Canada, and the idea spread to University of Pennsylvania and Yale University within four hours of Columbia Compliments’ creation.
At Penn, the page is currently a one-man operation. The creator, who requested anonymity, said that the Columbia Compliments page was a great idea.
“This provides a chance to do something positive for someone else … to make someone’s day just because we feel they deserve it,” the creator wrote in an email. “I just saw a chance to do something nice and jumped on it.”
“There’s something about a declaration about why you love your friend that spreads good will,” Marans said. “It makes other people want to share their good thoughts, too.”