22nd September 2023

Dispatches from the front line: Camfess civil war rages on


CN: Terrible writing and a weak premise that goes on for much longer than should.

Camfess might not be a place you think about very often. You most likely couldn’t place it on a map, and yet here among the content notices and confessions we find a dark undercurrent of violence that casts a long shadow over our pristine liberal world. The area has been stuck in a quasi-civil war that stretches back days, if not weeks, and shows no sign of ending any time soon. Here, I have seen men and women tear each other apart out of rage and fear. But what caused this conflict, and will it ever end?

Camfess is a strange but beautiful place. On a clear day you can see hundreds of posts stretching into the distance, with deep comment threads that can take up to four days to traverse. However, its location between the digital hellscape of Facebook and the now digital hellscape of the University of Cambridge has left it a perfect place for the angry and discontented to collect. 

I first arrived at Camfess in late 2020. Some of you may remember those halcyon days; Trump was president, Britain was not in lockdown, and Mariah Carey was in the charts with “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. It was a different time, but even then there were tensions simmering beneath the surface. Scattered amongst the paeans to Cindies, a local deity in their culture, one could detect hints of the anger many students were feeling.  

A few days later those tensions erupted to the surface. Students turned on each other with accusations of insensitivity and lawbreaking flying thick and fast. No journalist would ever be sent to any area like this without receiving “hostile environment” training, yet nothing could truly prepare me for the reports that I heard coming out of Camfess. Rumours started to spread of students cannibalising content from other university confession pages to post to Camfess – a dark time indeed.

At the time I spoke to Marcus Atherton, a third year economist from Queens’ who wishes to remain anonymous, “I think people are just stressed because of the pandemic and the poor university response. They just need a place to vent.” 

A similar story is told by many involved in the conflict, conveniently absolving the perpetrators of any blame. To truly understand what was going on, to cut through the lies and the propaganda, I would need to go in. Donning a flak jacket and a helmet, I logged on to Camfess. What I saw there was scarring; keyboard warriors were gaining ground across the site – with local warlords posting hundreds or thousands of times a day. Factions would exchange secret messages through “Colleges as …” posts allowing for gangs to operate there with impunity. One post even boasted of “missing three lectures already” – something I have inferred is code for confirmed kills.

Whatever the politics, overwhelmingly this is a humanitarian crisis. The region has long suffered from limited access to welfare resources and a poor international response. Pleas for national governments to take action have fallen on deaf ears. Canadian emissary Stephen Toope was not even aware of the crisis, while Christopher Greenwood, Master of Magdalene College and supporter of the war in Iraq, has offered to debate (read: fight) anyone who said this was a genuine issue.