The Secret & Whisper Apps: A Private, Cathartic Process for Millennials or a Narcissistic, Bullying App?

The Secret app and the Whisper app allow users to send messages anonymously and receive replies. Users post messages which are displayed as text superimposed over an image, similar to greeting cards. Secret differs from Whisper and other anonymous sharing apps such as PostSecret and Yik Yak in that it is intended for sharing primarily with friends, making it more interesting and addictive for people reading the secret, anonymous updates because of the closeness of the real relationship.

The Anonymous Trend
Obviously, this is different from what we currently consider social media in the sense that it doesn’t seem too openly social but rather private and behind closed doors (or screens).  These types of apps are all part of a growing trend towards anonymous and quasi-anonymous sharing, which is meant as a certain slap in the face to Facebook and other social media that push to encourage real name use throughout the Internet. 

It’s as if social media became too social or too mainstream for the younger generation and now, like younger generations do, they have revolted and created the counter pivot towards the opposite - anonymity.

As MIT Review contributor Rachel Metz said in February of this year, “On Facebook and Twitter, I follow a simple rule: post nothing I’d be embarrassed about if my boss saw it. On a new iPhone app called Secret, I’ve kissed that rule goodbye.”

So it seems that one of the last morally, ethically, social “contracts” that has held off anyone going completely Lindsey Lohan with rants and raves on social media for fear of public judgment and consequences, has now been eliminated too.

Two Different Ways To Look at Anonymity Apps
At this point there are two distinct ways we can analyze the ramifications of such apps from a deep psyche level.  Is this a new way to cathartically express deep emotion and move through a healthy psychological cleanse not unlike what the generations did before us with journal entries, AA meetings and Post Secret mailings? Or, have we taken the need to focus on ourselves and share the most intimate, private and yet narcissistic details of our personal life for all to see now without the social constraints of being called self-focused and narcissistic?

Let me be provide some bi-partisanship: there are really moving and inspirational secrets that allow people to discuss how they feel or to help others, however there are also some really dark, hurtfully secrets shared on these sites. Here are a few:  “Everyone is fighting their own unique battles.  Always remember this before jumping to conclusions.” “I only joined Secret because I was hoping someone would confess to being in love with me.” “Your adoring, pudgy, VC restaurateur husband is cheating on you. Sorry.”

As Mitch Joel, renowned social media expert put it on his blog in March, “We could well arrive at a juncture which finds consumers much less interested in the public chest beating of their semi-consequential day-to-day accomplishments on social media, and a much more focused desire to use technology as a communications platform to add more personal meaning.”  Mitch, however, was looking at it from a surface level, a social media/technology revolution standpoint.  I would add/provoke the next level of concern: is this public chest beating (because it is public for the world to see) of people’s semi-consequential day-to-day accomplishments (and extreme criticisms) okay without the public pressures and boundaries to hold the individual accountable to what is morally acceptable?   What’s more, how does this private sharing affect our personal psyche? Do we trust less and share less with our real life family and friends and opt for the stranger’s acknowledgement and perhaps misguided comments and direction?

The deepest level of concern has been shared by Sarah Lacy and those that think anonymity apps are perfect networks for bullies and defamers.  She wrote, “If Secret continues to grow with everyone trying to profit off of its popularity willfully justifying and ignoring the social cost, there will be Secret suicides. As a community, we will regret this. It will make the Craigslist killer and the Airbnb meth head-gate scandals look like nothing.”  Formspring, an anonymous Q&A site beset with cyberbullying and allegations of related suicides, raised $14m before shutting down a year ago. Have we entered a new level of Gossip Girl? Oh No, Oh No!

To be continued...