“He’s laying right next to me but I might as well be alone.”
“There’s a slight chance my husband isn’t the father of our newborn baby.”
“I will never forgive Jamie Spears for getting pregnant and ruining Zoey101.”
From poignant to petty to possibly illegal, posts on secret-telling app Whisper provide what feels like an illicit peek into other people’s innermost thoughts. A scroll through recent uploads gives a sensation of overlooking snippets of digital diaries. Everything is anonymous, nothing is verified, and most users appear drippingly earnest. One post asks other users what they would ask God if they had just one question (no shout-out to Joan Osborne added, sadly). The post has 3,627 replies, most painfully sincere, and all accompanied by art that makes each post look similar to motivational artwork from Tumblr and Pinterest.
And Whisper may soon join Tumblr and Pinterest in the social media pantheon; the app is on the rise. According to a Business Insider report, Whisper will soon approach 3 billion monthly pageviews, and it’s a “sticky” digital destination, with average users spending more than 20 minutes a day looking through and engaging with posts.
So what’s this PostSecret for the Snapchat generation all about?
Whisper is the anti-Facebook.
The storyline is teens are leaving Facebook because all the olds arrived, which is partly true—but the largest social network’s rigid real-name policy also means things can easily be traced backwards online, something younger people want to avoid when they’re trading intimacies. Whisper has a no-name policy; anonymity is required, not discouraged, and what you say there is unlikely to get unearthed by parents or repeated by gossipy frenemies.
Post Secret’s founders worry Whisper is a powerful tool for online cruelty.
The anonymity gives Whisper its appeal, but it also attracts critics. Whisper is clearly indebted to PostSecret, an older forum for posting anonymous secrets—but PostSecret’s founder Frank Warren shuttered its app in 2012, concerned about the potential for cyberbullying. And Warren believes Whisper is vulnerable to the same bullying problems. And bullying was only one of Warren’s concerns: “Whisper is monetized in a way that could attract sexual predators,” he said earlier this year.
And there are plenty of problematic posts.
Warren isn’t wrong when he points out that Whisper could devolve into a dark place, depending on the intentions of the community. The potential for abuse is evident with a little digging around: searching for hashtags like #cuttingmyself or #crystalmeth, it’s apparent that some of the posts here can kindle toxic communities—and considering the young user base, Whisper’s pretty-much-anything-goes policy and lack of accountability means some bad group behavior can flourish. Of course, there’s a very solid argument to be made about the need for spaces to vent, even about unhealthy behaviors, but pretending like Whisper doesn’t have a dark side is naive.
But it’s not a cyberbullying wild west.
Unlike other services with young user bases that allow anonymity, like AskFM, Whisper has not experienced a major cyber-bullying problem, potentially because users who submit posts expressing their secrets and vulnerabilities are not identified, so any nasty comments cannot come from people with personal vendettas against them. Plus, Whisper employs 92 content moderators to try to quell bad posts, so it’s not a completely unfiltered digital hinterland.
Taking responsibility: Whisper created a non-profit dedicated to mental health issues.
Another point in Whisper’s favor: the company created Your Voice, a non-profit focused on mental health issues on college campuses. The organization provides resources for college students with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Some of the posts are just fiction and fantasy.
While most of the posts appear earnest, since there’s no way to verify them, people can write whatever they want—and some users are just making stuff up.
Teens are using it as a dating app.
Even though Whisper allows for anonymous posts, some users are reaching out to each other and romantically connecting. One of the most popular posts on the app at the moment: “We met on Whisper two months ago and have talked and Skyped every night since… Friday night we met in person for the first time!” This post has hundreds of comments, many from users indicating they’re in similar situations. Watch out, Tinder?
[Photo Credit: Lisa Verhas/Flickr ]