We used to call them slam books, and they all got confiscated in fourth grade when the teachers found them: notebooks that were passed around in which people wrote anonymous, nasty things about their classmates. Also called burn books, a la the movie Mean Girls, they were a part of many of our middle and high school experiences— a really bad, sucky part.
Now imagine someone taking that slam book and publishing it on the internet. It’s called a “shade room” or “tea room.” And it gets ugly.
Here’s how it works:
Students make anonymous accounts on Instagram and promise anonymity to people who send them “tea” (i.e., gossip) about other students: the same things we used to write in slam books. Who’s hot, who’s not, who’s hooking up with who, who sucks… and a whole lot more. It’s basically Gossip Girl on Instagram.
But as Stayhipp says, shade rooms often use kids’ full names— right out there on the internet for everyone to see. While some of the confessions are funny, many of them, like the one above, are mean-spirited and cruel. It’s peak internet bullying, and as Stayhipp says, while it goes against Instagram’s terms of service, which prohibit harassment and bullying, the accounts still pop up like mushrooms after a rain… and students are following them.
And they aren’t just on Instagram. TikTok has a fair share of shade room accounts, and while there’s not the same promise of anonymity in most cases, there’s a fair share of videos with text confessions paired to wonked-out voiceovers.
So What’s In Shade Rooms?
Shade rooms and tea rooms post everything. Most of it deals with who likes who, but it gets really nasty really fast:
Accusations of racism and homophobia are rampant, as are allegations of who’s sleeping with who, and who did what where. Post-defending shade rooms are common— they argue that if you don’t like it, pick up your ball and go home. Most shade rooms are public, hence easy to find, and accept all followers.
Both of the posts above included a minor’s first and last name.
The shade rooms on TikTok trend in another direction. While the ones on Instagram tend to give users a snapshot, TikTok deals in drawn-out drama: a response to a response to a response isn’t uncommon, all given by different students involved some he-said, she-said. In other cases, people start with something like, “There’s been a lot of questions about [usually them and someone else] and I want to answer them…”
Are They Really Anonymous?
It depends on the goodwill of the person running the shade room… and if someone’s running a shade room, they’re probably not someone you want to trust. Stayhipp notes that many breach their anonymity claims and screenshot. Hoover High School in Alabama has had shade room problems so bad they had to send out a memo to students and parents, reports WBRC. The memo notes, “The profiles in question promise anonymity for students who provide content or otherwise engage… their responses are often displayed via screenshot for everyone to see, obviously breaching the promise of anonymity.” The administration also notes that this problem is not only local, but national in scale.
So short answer? Just like you could spot your friends’ handwriting in a slam book, these anonymous accounts often aren’t so anonymous. Several confessions on this account, for example, implore the owner not to show their name (which begs the question of why they’re submitting confessions in the first place).
Shade Rooms Are Peak Online Bullying
As high schooler Lyda Cosgrove notes in her student newspaper The Harbinger, “No one needs their deepest secret exposed on Instagram.” Touro University notes that the anonymity of the digital world allows for an easy cross from joking to bullying. The anonymity involved in cyberbullying— the anonymity promised in shade rooms— can also, they say, “make a student feel more vulnerable” because they can’t tell who, exactly, is attacking them.
And we know the consequences of cyberbullying can be dire. CNN reports that 16-year-old Channing Smith took his own life after being outed as bisexual — two classmates published, on Instagram and Snapchat, explicit conversations he had with another guy. The Canadian Center for Suicide Prevention has an entire page devoted to cyberbullying, and says that children who have experienced cyberbullying are twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who haven’t.
One study in the Journal of Internet Medical Research found that students who had been cyberbullied were also at higher risk for self-harm than those who have not been bullied.
The Megan Meier Foundation says that 59% of US students say they have been harassed online, and 90% agree it’s a major problem. And the worst could be, as Lyda Cosgrove says of shade rooms, “stumbl[ing] upon your name while scrolling through your [Instagram] feed, accompanied by a rumor about you that’s far from the truth.”
So What Should Parents Do?
Monitor your child’s online activity. This doesn’t mean you need to turn into a total snoop, but if you scroll through your teen’s Instagram friends and see any form of “shade room” or “tea room” in the name, it’s time to have a talk. Remind your child not to friend anonymous accounts. And if your kid is showing signs of depression, withdrawal, a reluctance to go to school, and seems to be dropping friends, it’s a good time to ask if they’re being cyberbullied.
And if you do find shade rooms? Report them. Since they’re against Instagram’s terms of service, they’ll likely be shut down. That’s the best weapon people have in fighting these anonymous gossip accounts. If they’re bullying or harassing others, they’re not permitted — period. Make sure your kids know that, and encourage them to report questionable posts.
Everyone wants to know all the gossip. That’s why The Shade Room (for celebrities) is so damn popular. But when it’s taken to a local level, when people you know can see what’s been posted— it’s a whole other ball game. Cyberbullying carries real risks. And so do shade rooms.