For Better Or Worse, Anonymous Apps Allow Us To Be Ourselves Online Again

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Anonymous apps like Secret and Whisper are all the rage right now and maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. This feels like the inevitable reaction to all the major social networks wanting to own our identities — preferably with our real names attached.

What they are getting, however, is the completely boring and sanitized version of us. The one where everybody is happy and is on an eternal, Instagram-friendly beach vacation. Where the kids are always happy, all the babies are cute and the party never ends. Because we don’t want to create any controversy, we mostly keep our real thoughts hidden and just publish photos from airports, beaches and birthday parties.

In the early days, the Internet promised us anonymity, but now we know that all of our moves are tracked by somebody. If it’s not the NSA, it’s Google or another advertising company that wants to create a profile of our every move.

Whenever you know you are being tracked, you will inevitably change your behavior, even if it’s just subconsciously. When you know your family members and all of your friends will see what you’re doing, you definitely change your behavior and think about every word in your status update.

And that’s why there is this fascination with anonymous apps. They give us the kind of experience we expect from modern social networks without any of the social baggage. They let us say something we know people will disagree with and we still have a job on Monday (or we may just find others agree with us, too). They let us talk about our depressions, illnesses, bowel movements and bedroom habits, and will provide us with honest feedback — even if it hurts.

Of course, there is a dark side, too, and it’s pretty dark. In schools, anonymous apps are making it easy for even the most outwardly shy student to become a bully, and even the best discussion can be undermined by anonymous trolls. Nobody is safe and we (and the developers behind apps like Yik Yak) will have to figure out ways for dealing with this or this whole phenomenon is going to be very short-lived.

The reality, of course, is that you are not anonymous to the anonymity apps. They may even end up knowing more about you than anybody else and they will inevitably try to cash in on this. Thankfully, none of these apps have made blackmail their business models yet, but there is a treasure trove of data for advertisers in their databases.

Unless you want to risk going to 4chan, though, this new breed of apps allows us to be our online selves again — and leaving aside all the other (and very real) concerns around bullying and false gossip, that feels pretty freeing. Google, Facebook and all the other players in this field want to own our online identities and have made us sanitize our feeds. There is some use for that, but it’s only natural that there is a pushback now.