2 min

Anonymity on messaging services

Feb 12, 2014 - WSJ - New Apps Whisper and Secret Cater to a Craving to Dish Freely - "Messaging Services Offer Anonymity and a Web With Fewer Consequences"

Mr. Edgeworth is among a younger demographic who are flocking to a raft of new messaging apps, buoyed by a desire to share thoughts more freely without worrying about carefully curated, online identities. It is a form of communication that many say more authentically mimics personal interactions in real life, where conversations are fleeting and not part of a permanent record.

Some of the apps, such as Whisper and Secret, offer an anonymous way to share just about anything. Others, like Snapchat, Frankly and Telegram, revolve around ephemerality: Messages and photos self-destruct after they are read.

The apps are giving people a taste of a Web with fewer repercussions, and are threatening to steal users' time away from dominant social platforms like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

Critics are worried that such services will be rife with nasty commentary and bullying, especially among young people, that could eventually turn off users and potential advertisers. The lack of accountability also makes such forums vulnerable to lies.

Whisper, which estimates that 90% of its population is 18 to 24 years old, says it has controls in place to prevent bullying. The service automatically filters for trigger words or for proper names. For example, if someone writes a comment about "Justin Bieber," the post will automatically go into a moderation cue. The control is intended to prevent malicious rumors about specific people.

Whisper has about 120 moderators, largely based in the Philippines, to screen such content. According to Mr. Heyward, despite the volume, Whisper's moderators are never more than 20 seconds behind. "This is a place that has to feel safe," Mr. Heyward says.

Mr. Byttow says Secret was originally designed to let users send anonymous, self-destructing messages to specific email addresses and phone numbers, but the founders changed course, worried that such a model would attract too much abuse. In the current version, posts are shared broadly among users' friends and can spread to more extended circles, based on the number of "likes" for a post. It is largely up to the community to report negative comments. Mr. Byttow says users are helping to blunt bad behavior.

"The only thing advertisers hate more than unpredictable content is offensive content. Anonymous apps have both," says Josh Felser, a founding partner at venture-capital firm Freestyle Capital.

#messaging - #anonymity - #business - #advertising

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