Secret CEO David Byttow doesn’t see cyberbullying as a major problem for his seven-week-old anonymous sharing app. “We don’t see very much of that, if any,” he told TechCrunch writer Josh Constine in a sit-down interview at SXSW. “There was a bit of what you could call bullying in the beginning, notably calling out more public figures,” he said.
Byttow contrasted his app with competitors like Whisper, Askfm, and Formspring, by noting that Secret’s audiences are more limited because the posts initially show up to an audience of friends. His argument seemed to be that the limited audience encourages communities on Secret to self-police. He didn’t mention whether the introduction of the Nearby feature, which allows users to see secrets posted by users in their area who aren’t on their contact list.
According to Byttow, Secret may change its rating at the App Store to 17+ as a barrier against cyberbullying. This alone, of course, would amount to little more than an empty gesture, since age-gating apps is a completely ineffective way to keep young people off of them, since they can easily lie about their age when signing up. The possible rating change isn’t the only barrier up for discussion, though. Secret already created a warning alert for users who may be talking about other people in a defamatory way. When someone posts a secret with a proper name in the post, Secret shows pop-up dialogue reminding users that defamatory and offensive material can be flagged and removed. And Byttow told Constine that the next update of the app will contain an alert that trawls for potentially suicidal posts, so Secret can provide help.
Secret isn’t going as far as Yik Yak, another anonymous sharing app that grew in popularity over the past few months and faced cyberbullying criticism. Yik Yak chose to pay to make the app defunct on middle school and high school grounds to deter cyberbullying on campus. But it is taking a proactive stance. Will that be enough to keep confessions civil as the company continues to expand? Byttow says the app will appear internationally in coming months, and an Android version is forthcoming. As Secret moves from a Silicon Valley gossipfest to a more widely adopted tool, guiding the conversation away from trash-talking will remain a major consideration for Byttow and his small team.