Business Insider Australia Continues To Trash Anonymous Social Networks
Anonymous social networks are receiving a lot of attention in the last couple months from the tech blogging community, largely due to some major capital investment in startups like the Secret and Whisper apps.
In addition to a lot of PR friendly puff pieces we are seeing a number of articles that are highly critical, not only of individual projects, but also critical of the basic idea that there is any value in anonymous social networking.
The most recent and one-sided example is an article in Business Insider Australia – We Asked 3 Startup Founders If They Are Responsible For The Poisonous Culture Their Gossip Apps Create
With a title akin to asking someone whether anyone knows they beat their spouse, the attitude expressed in the article is strikingly clear. Megan Rose Dickey thinks anonymous social networks are a ‘poisonous culture‘ and goes on to represent the issue with as little balance or subtlety.
Dickey begins by pointing out that the PostSecret app was pulled by the creator after three months due to what he felt was an abusing environment. However, the article fails to mention anything at all positive about the PostSecret website that has widely been hailed as a positive example of the benefits of anonymous social networking.
We then are subjected to the implication that the Whisper and Secret apps lead to rape and, pointing to another critical article on Business Insider Australia, that they are a “pit of self-loathing and narcissism.”
While no one paying attention is arguing that abuse doesn’t occur, these isolated examples of a negative outcome and broad generalizations about users are very simply not exclusive to anonymous social networks. To suggest that self-loathing and narcissism are found only in anonymous communities seems particularly out of touch with unending humorous stereotypes about online interaction.
The article goes on to point out that Whisper and Secret have taken steps to prevent abuse, but makes those efforts seem trivial by highlighting examples of past abuse without discussing overall volume of traffic or any of the positive example of site use. In this fallacy of composition, the author is essentially implying that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Finally we get to what seems to be the central point of the article. “[S]hould investors be responsible for the poisonous culture secret-sharing apps create?” Dickey appears to be trying to chill investment in the Secret and Whisper apps. While this might not be the case, the implication is one to which she has lead the reader.
Oddly enough the article ends with a quote that in some ways undermines it’s premise. We get a quote from Whisper CEO Michael Heyward. “Just because there’s a possibility you could get in a car crash doesn’t mean you’re never going to ride in a car again. Does that mean you’re not going to do anything because there’s a possibility bad things can happen? No. I think that’s ridiculous.”
Ending with this quote might be a nod to fairness. However, in light of the rest of the article is appears as though Megan Dickey considers the quote flippant and irresponsible, casting Heyward as someone who doesn’t care about the occasional casualty of his business venture.
Unfortunately, a number of articles with this tone have been published recently, apparently trying to take a bite out of a burgeoning new experiment in social interaction that by the nature of it’s lack of precedence would be likely to experience failures and have to grow as a result. While it is not clear what agenda or point of view is motivating these critics, it is important for those paying attention to keep squarely in mind that anonymous social networks will take time to mature. It is very worthwhile to point out failure. However, the benefit of that critique is only hampered by imbalanced reporting.