The man behind Bing-U Secrets has one secret of his own: his identity. Today, he pulls back the curtain.
Fred Cohen, a senior majoring in chemistry, runs Bing-U Secrets, a popular Facebook page that posts anonymous text submissions and has become something of a Binghamton University phenomenon.
Cohen kept his identity secret because doing so is essential to the idea behind Bing-U Secrets. Total anonymity means no filters: If his identity was open, then people he knew wouldn’t submit secrets to the page. And Cohen knows plenty of people — he’s been a teaching assistant for hundreds of students in chemistry, physics and theatre classes, he’s an EMT for Harpur’s Ferry, a former president of the Undergraduate Chemistry Society and he works as the senior residential computer consultant of Newing College.
“The hardest thing about being the admin of Bing-U Secrets is I’m not me when I log on,” Cohen said. “I can’t be me, I’m the Bing-U Secrets guy. I can’t hold judgment.”
Cohen admitted his own identity to only five other people, including Emily Goetz, a fellow senior ResCon who knew from the start that Cohen ran the page.
“There’s always some temptation to tell people when they bring it up, but keeping it anonymous is pretty vital to the page’s purpose,” said Goetz, a junior majoring in computer science.
Since Cohen is graduating this semester, his next step is to choose a successor who’s unbiased about what’s submitted and can keep up with the constant deluge of submissions. Last month, he asked students to apply. Around 20 people did, and he’ll decide on someone by the end of the month.
Cohen said that half of the people who submit secrets do so through a Facebook message instead of Tumblr, making their identity available to him. Aside from submissions, the page often gets messages accusing other people of being the page’s mediator. No one has gotten it right, Cohen said, but a few people have suspected him, claiming to identify him based on his grammar and by his collection of GIFs, which he frequently posts as comments to posted submissions.
The Facebook page has a few regular commenters, perhaps none as famous as “Kevin Panda Liu,” who now has his own Facebook page.
“Everyone thought I was Kevin Panda Liu,” Cohen said. “Liu was like my unofficial partner. He was like someone who just commented on everything and he had a following on it. I don’t know who he is. I never met him in real life. I’ve never spoken to him at all.”
Last spring, Pipe Dream’s April Fool’s issue, The Pipe Bomb, published a satirical article claiming that President Harvey Stenger ran the Facebook page. Some people believed it.
“Then the other big conspiracy was that I was President Stenger, which I thought was hilarious,” Cohen said. “People thought it was a social experiment.”
Several people demanded that Cohen tell the identities of suicidal-sounding submitters to the University Counseling Center, but all of those posts were submitted anonymously through Tumblr. Cohen said that he’d report a post indicating that someone was in danger to the University Police Department, but there’s never been such a case.
Over time, the Facebook page has become more of a public forum than a place where the student body pours out our collective hearts. But Cohen isn’t bothered — he only doesn’t post submissions when they violate one of his four rules.
The first rule is that a submission can’t target a specific person. If a submission “says someone’s name and a negative word,” it won’t be posted. He made the rule because when the page was first made, people flagged posts and Facebook temporarily suspended the page.
The second rule is that he won’t post anything that might damage the University, like a submission he received from a student who claimed to have taken drugs with a professor.
The third rule is that he won’t post anything stupid, like those submissions by people who so bravely admitted to enjoying marijuana and going Downtown. The last rule is that he forbids posts for personal gain, like advertisements. He won’t allow anything from a charity fundraiser to a frat party.
“Especially when the SA election rolled around, oh my god,” Cohen said. “I mean I’m obviously not going to say names, but candidates wanted endorsements, stuff like that.”
Even though Cohen is the brains behind Bing-U Secrets, he pretends not to even read it when he’s with his unknowing peers.
“I’ll never forget that one time, I was at Harpur’s Ferry doing my shift. And someone did a secret about Harpur’s Ferry,” Cohen said. “And everyone was talking about it and I’m just sitting there, sitting down on the couch in the squad room, smiling.”