Can Anonymity Be Good for the Social Web?

HootSource › David Godsall

Silicon Valley was buzzing with secrets this week. We’re hearing all this juicy information thanks to a pair of apps, Whisper and Secret, that let users post messages anonymously. Both have reportedly closed big funding rounds this week, with Whisper raising $30 million and Secret bringing in $10 million. Tech insiders appear to be betting that their own appetite for industry gossip, currently the stock-in-trade of these networks, portends mainstream interest in anonymous secret sharing.

Both apps are built on the same assumption: that anonymity frees people to say what they really mean. The big difference between the two is that Whisper, founded in 2012 and offering a more mature network, lets users share messages with anyone, while Secret is limited to friends or friends of friends. So if you only know one person who works at Apple, you know the source of that iGlass Secret. Although it’s still more likely someone just made it up.

Secrecy has two big downsides. The first is that, when people aren’t accountable for what they say, they often say things that aren’t true. And the second is that they’re prone to saying malicious, hateful, and libellous things. Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy is rooted in fear of these negatives. In a 2011 fight over his use of a pseudonym, Facebook closed the account of Chinese blogger Michael Anti (or An Ti), citing the policy. “We fundamentally believe this leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use the service,” a spokesperson told The Guardian. “This view point has been developed by our own research and in consultation with a number of safety and child protection experts.”