Rhodri Marsden: Whisper it - anonymous social networks sound like a terrifying idea


If there's one recurrent online motif that makes me want to find whoever invented social media and subject them to brutal questioning, it's the indiscriminate use of inspirational quotes.

Deployed by people who see an empty text box in front of them and can't think what to say, they pluck some hackneyed expression from the recesses of their mind and start typing. "Life is for living," they might observe with great insight, or perhaps "Rule one of life: Do what makes YOU happy." At which point we're probably supposed to immediately book ourselves in for a parachute jump or spa treatment.

Anyway, you'll find a whole heap of these things on Whisper, the much whispered-about app that grants its contributors anonymity. "Life is like photography," posts someone, "you need the negatives to develop." (These Whispered pieces of wisdom all appear on a picture background, which lends them some superficial extra weight as they look a bit like motivational posters.) Other whisperers, however, aren't quite so content. "Single dad of two looking for women for friendly chat and maybe more," says one. "At Wetherspoons on my own," says another. I close the app, wearily.

It's hard to tell whether this is actually the case, but we're told that anonymous social-media apps are the next big thing. There are certainly a bunch of services jostling for pole position, all with minor differences which their creators hope will mark them out from the crowd.

Aforementioned Whisper brings random strangers together for an unknown purpose. Secret, available in the US and launching in the UK soon, connects you anonymously with friends in your phone book to enable unattributable gossip to rage in a no-holds-barred fashion. Yik Yak has been described as a "hyper-local Twitter", and was used anonymously by school students in the US until their access was shut down following concerns over bullying.

Sneeky, created by the designer of the unmourned social game Draw Something, allows you to send anonymous photos to people you have the phone number of. Most of these will sink. One may swim.

But what's the point? We're told that younger people are lured by the prospect of anonymous interaction because of privacy concerns – they know that social media screw-ups may come back to haunt them later on. But these apps evidently open the door to hurtful invective that "serves the darker parts of human nature," as one critic put it.

For years now, moderators of online forums have sought to banish anonymity as a method of raising the level of debate, but others maintain that anonymity is essential for creative expression. Indeed, the creators of one imminently launching anonymous service, Cloaq, talks of a "platform to give intelligent people a way to speak their minds freely". And maybe let other intelligent people know that they're in Wetherspoons on their own.

These services may claim to be a solution to privacy concerns, but enabling unattributable gossip makes privacy even harder to maintain, because you never know who's going to be telling someone else what you've been up to. And you'll probably never find out.

Maybe that's what all the inspirational quotes are about – keep it safe, post something benign, and then everything will be OK. Of course, we could just not post anything at all, but we're finding that fact increasingly difficult to remember.


Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own