‘Whisper’ App: Teens Are Having a Blast but Parents May Gasp

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Everyone loves a good secret. Tack anonymity to a whisper and the recipe for juicy fun spikes considerably.

That’s the premise of the new mobile app, Whisper, a social network where personal “secrets” are shared—and responded to—anonymously. Popular with college students, messages are posted to the service in the form of a meme (image macro), which is simply original text overlaid on a photograph.

Here’s how the app works: Each user establishes an account with a chosen nick name and pin number for accessing private messages They can then browse through a public stream of photos with a diverse collection of secrets laid over them. Users can see who posted the image and respond publicly or privately (via direct message), also using a photo meme. Or, they can scroll through the person’s past secrets to see if there’s a friendship or connection. Many users post their location and you can view a stream of secrets within miles of your own location.

Sound a bit covert? Potentially seedy? It is.

While the app recommends users be over 17 this mom would quickly jack that number even higher.

After using the app for several days it was clear that the bad of this app far outweig

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hs the good. While it was great to see many uplifting, positive “secrets” posted and responded to in an equal vibe, every third kind post was flanked by crude, mean, and borderline pornographic “secrets” which were really just statements or invitations to more crude behavior. The app seemed more a sex or drug hook up app  than a social network that could hold any merit based on its content.

Another red flag: Whisper sharing welcomes a very real sense of despair (no, you won’t find that in the app description). Several user secretsconfessed to tragic events, loss, despair, and abuse. It felt good to respond to several posts with honest words of hope but frankly, because of Whisper’s anonymous culture, there’s no true way to know if the tragic secrets shared are real or fabricated by a lonely (or predatory) user in an effort to make a connection . . . to anyone.

Perhaps that’s why it was not alarming after the first few days to scroll past the secrets that had a suicidal tone. Scrolling through an ocean of despair day after day leads to an (unintentional) overwhelming sense of helplessness and diluted urgency. Sad, but true. The heavy content affected me; just think about the effect it can have on a teenager.

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The Pros

  • Whisper’s positives are obvious. Whisper is a great place for anangst-ridden teen to confess a burden or find a kindred spirit. It’s a place where shyness, talents, cliques, popularity, and looks don’t drive the conversation (like Facebook or Instagram). Users can upload selfies and reveal themselves if they desire but most remain anonymous, which is a refreshing change.
  • Users can express themselves creatively, be (really) funny, encourage others, and experience sympathy (and gratitude) in the realization that others have some pretty big problems, comparably. On one level, it’s a fascinating microcosm of human behavior, which is quite entertaining for about 10 minutes, then the vulgarity kicks out any curiosity or entertainment.
  • There are ways to block users or flag them for inappropriate content. And there’s a huge list of privacy and conduct guidelines.

The Dangers

  • In addition to the dangers noted above, we don’t recommend kids use anonymous apps at all. Whisper’s anything-goes culture is packed with cruelty, cyber bullying, racism, homophobia, and vulgarity.
  • Whisper allows users to share whispers (theirs and others) on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. While Whisper claims it’s posts are anonymous, lets not forget SnapChat’s same claim.  Remember—nothing is truly anonymous on the Internet.
  •  Although location services are optional, most users have them on and many can follow “secrets” within 5-10 miles of their home. A clever predator could easily manipulate and phrase questions to circumvent another user’s anonymity.
  • In addition to being anonymous, each user has a pin number that protects direct messages. This is a big red flag for parents.
  • The chance for deception on a dozen social and emotional levels is huge.Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 11.42.08 PM

Next steps for families:

  • Know what the app looks like on your kids’ phone. It’s a purple square with a W in it (pictured, right).
  • If your child happens to have the app installed, ask him what he likes about it and if he sees any potential danger in using the app. Then, make him delete it.
  • Use a family account for app downloads and do not share the password with your kids. That way, your consent is required for downloads.
  • Share this article with your kids. Talk it over.
  • Share this article with another parent.

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes.

Categories: Family Safety
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