Anonymous apps such as Whisper come with a lot of freedom, but if you use them improperly it’s easy to harm yourself or others!
Whisper is an app built entirely on good intentions. The app’s creator Michael Heyword created the app to be a medium where people could share their innermost feelings with users in a supportive and safe environment.
The thing is, the concept behind Whisper isn’t actually that new. Other, apps such as the now-defunct PostSecret app and Secret have tried to be a safe space for people to post anonymous comments, but have ultimately failed to prevent the ugly parts of anonymity from seeping through in posts and comments.
It is incredibly easy to get started using Whisper.
Hit the post button and enter your secret into Whisper. The app will automatically select a background for you before allowing you to post to the app’s feed. Feeds can be sorted by your school, your location, keywords, most recent, and most popular, giving you plenty of opportunities for finding a community to hear your ‘whispers’.
The app automatically assigns each user an anonymous handle, or users can create one of their own. These handles are used to identify each user’s whispers, and to allow users the chance to comment on each other’s secrets or to start private chats.
There very well may be a need for an anonymous secret-sharing app — certainly, Whisper’s 10 million active monthly users think so — but in order to keep the app a safe space, and to keep yourself safe while using it, there are certain unofficial rules that need to be followed!
1. Don’t Post Identifying Information
I feel like this one should go without saying, but it really is the key to all anonymous communities. If you post identifying information about yourself or others (including names, addresses, and phone numbers) you are working against the spirit of the app’s community, and could end up being banned from the app.
Sharing your own information also leads to a huge number of potential risks, and sharing other people’s information is cruel as it exposes them to those same risks without their consent.
2. Don’t Get Addicted to the Attention
It feels good to get notifications on something that we post online, and that feeling can become addictive. That’s not just vanity, it’s actually a chemical reaction involving the neurotransmitter dopamine and a reward pathway in the brain similar to the one that controls other addictions such as food or drugs. Seriously — Internet Addiction Disorder is actually a real thing.
Having another outlet for our thoughts online, especially one that involves near-instant gratification from Whisper’s very active userbase can make the app incredibly addictive. Be careful that you don’t over-use this app to the point that it costs you productivity or causes you to share overly personal thoughts just to get the ‘rush’ of a new notification.
3. Don’t Use Identifying Photos
I know that we’ve already covered not posting identifying information in your whispers, but the use of photo backgrounds in the app necessitates another consideration. While most users tend to use the photos automatically selected by the app based on keywords in their whispers, there is also the option to post your own photos as the backgrounds for your secrets instead.
If you do choose to use your own photo, be sure that it does not reveal any information about your location or identity. This app and your secrets are open to any user who downloads it — you want to be sure that your photos aren’t actively working against the anonymity (and therefore safety) that the app gives you.
4. Don’t Ignore the App’s Age Requirement
It’s naïve to assume that Whisper’s single screen asking users to confirm they are 17 years of age or older is enough to actually deter high school students from using the app. However, the app definitely contains mature content and many teens do not have a grasp of the far-reaching consequences that can occur when sensitive information is shared online.
Whisper is one of many age-inappropriate apps popular with teens. If you notice that your child is already using Whisper, it’s important to have a discussion with them about the content that concerns you, and you may want to consider limiting the app’s use.
5. Don’t Assume Your Post Will Disappear
Many apps with anonymous feeds, such as Yik Yak, are based around the idea that after a certain period of time your secret will disappear from public view. That, however, is not necessarily the case with Whisper.
All posts created on Whisper become the property of the company, and there is no guarantee that your secret won’t surface again in the future. The app’s website features curated lists of secrets (à la Buzzfeed) and highlights popular secrets that are shared across platforms.
While this is fun for innocuous secrets, it may not be as fun if it is a highly personal, potentially identifying, or sensitive secret that is published in this way – a factor to consider when deciding what to post on the app.
6. Don’t Overshare if Your Local Feed is Quiet
Be even more careful about oversharing if you live in an area without much activity on Whisper. It is surprisingly easy to put together pieces of a person’s story from unrelated posts on message boards and apps – a comment about a step-son, a complaint about your job, and a confession about a favourite show can quickly undermine your anonymity if you are the only one posting.
7. Don’t Try to Pick Up Anonymously
Secret sharing apps can often act as a replacement for journalling, therapy, or conversation. The one thing they should never be a substitute for? A dating app.
You are literally using an app centred on anonymity that offers all of the tools someone would need for deception and manipulation – why on earth would you think it’s a good place to make a romantic connection? Download Tinder or one of the many other dating apps available online instead!
8. Don’t Arrange Meet-Ups
When sharing secrets it is easy to form attachments to other anonymous users who seem to understand what you are going through. While, obviously, not every user of this app is going to be an unsavoury character you should exercise extreme caution when considering meeting up with someone who is completely anonymous.
If you do decide to meet up with someone from the app, be sure that you take every precaution possible (make sure others know you are going to be meeting up with them, have a friend with you, meet in a public location) and prepare yourself – meeting anonymous people from the Internet in real life can be disenchanting or even dangerous.
And don’t forget, this person knows some of your innermost secrets — and now your identity too.
9. Don’t Believe You are Fully Anonymous
It’s nearly impossible to actually be anonymous online, and as we’ve seen with Snapchat, even apps that try to guarantee your anonymity can be (and are) fallible. While you aren’t required to sign up for Whisper (negating any connections to your email, Twitter or Facebook accounts), your IP address is required to use the app, and Whisper does keep secrets grouped by user in their database so that they can track users they are concerned about.
Whisper does also comply with police investigations — even secrets worded as a joke that hint at illegal activities can be traced back to you and have real-world consequences!
10. Don’t Contribute to a Negative Environment
It is so easy for online spaces intended to be safe havens to become toxic environments instead. Whisper is trying to fill a niche in the app market that has been held by two other similar apps (PostSecret and Secret) in the past, both of which were pulled from circulation because of concerns about the harmful communities that were created.
Your actions contribute a lot to the environment of the online spaces you spend your time on, so make every interaction you have with people on Whisper a positive one and report hurtful or dangerous secrets/comments.
Whisper With Caution
Anonymity can be incredibly refreshing in a world oversaturated with forms of social media that pressure you into showcasing the highlight reel of your life. There are a lot of things you can’t share on Facebook, but that are perfectly acceptable to share when your name isn’t attached, and Whisper gives people the opportunity to do so.
Apps like Whisper are popular for a reason, and can be incredibly beneficial for those who feel the need to unload their secrets. However, as beneficial as it may be to spill your secrets online in the short term, it may not be the best long-term solution.
Have you used Whisper? Are there any “Don’ts” you would add to this list?
Image Credit: Man telling an astonished woman a secret via Shutterstock