Secret sharing thrives in anonymity

A social-networking app allows its users to submit their secrets.

A bathroom stall located in the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue has a wall filled with secrets. | MARIAN FUENTES / TTN
A bathroom stall located in the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue has a wall filled with secrets. | MARIAN FUENTES / TTN

People unload a lot of personal baggage on Facebook and Twitter, but users are not likely to log on and see all of their friends’ or followers’ darkest secrets aired publicly – a universal intrigue that social networking app Whisper is attempting to bring to the spotlight.

Launched last May, the app is growing in popularity and has more than 250,000 users, said co-creator Michael Heyward.

The app is free to download for any iPhone or iPad user, and will soon be available to any Android owners later this year.

After creating an account, Whisper allows users to choose an image – either their own or pre-uploaded – choose a filter, and then place text with a choice of font. Like other socially-interactive apps, users can “heart” or comment on a post. As of December 2012, Whisper’s users can now privately and anonymously message one another.

Entries are then sectioned into most popular, latest and nearby posts. The nearby feature is, Heyward said, extremely popular with the app because users have the ability to relate to those around them, especially on a college campus, without knowing exactly who they are. Users have the power to get into the minds of strangers.

“I created this app because I felt there was a need for people to have a place, a social community online, where they could be themselves. Social networks today leave us feeling isolated as we compare ourselves to others,” Heyward said. “Whisper is a community where you can be yourself.”

Heyward said he attributes its increasing growth to creating communities in colleges and universities across the country. He believes that it offers a sense of relief to users knowing they can submit whatever is on their mind to a judgment-free community.

“Whisper has become so popular with college students because college is a time when people need a space to be themselves,” Heyward said. “You’re away from home for the first time – there’s so much self-exploration and also so much doubt. Whisper is a way for students to connect during this complicated but very exciting time in their lives.”

But the need to extend secrets anonymously and into the world has been going on long before Whisper, or even PostSecret. The evidence is in the girl’s bathroom stall in the Barnes and Noble located on Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, where there is a list of more than 48 secrets written on the walls.

The list reveals secrets varying from cheating and pregnancy to being excited about the future and being in love. Many overlap, with arrows pointing to other confessions, with a myriad of different colored pens painting the wall of the beige bathroom stall giving advice and words of wisdom, with the inevitable jab of judgment.

Angela Brown, an early childhood education major, said she isn’t on Main Campus too often but has managed to see the infamous stall twice.

“It’s amazing. It’s really just something there for people to express themselves,” Brown said.

Brown added she sees the posts as relatable and can see how writing those posts would create a support system. She said she has strict feelings about vandalism and would never contribute herself.

As for technology, “I don’t know if I trust an app,” Brown said.

The biggest concern some may have with the app is its legitimacy – knowing what’s real and what isn’t. Heyward said he believes its anonymity keeps people from lying, and if something seems untrue, remains confident that other users will call them out in a comment.

Though they can’t accurately decipher the lies from the truth, the Whisper team takes extracting the inappropriate from the appropriate very seriously.

“We have a very sophisticated back-end that searches for specific words and images that are inappropriate,” Heyward said. “So if something is offensive, it is detected. We also employ 24/7 human moderation. The other way we monitor posts is by allowing users to flag posts themselves. That brings it to our attention, so we review it and determine if it’s inappropriate. If a post gets enough flags it’s removed regardless.”

Kareem Johnson, who teaches social psychology courses at Temple, said she sees why college students would want to submit their secrets.

“They may feel like they can’t talk about [their secrets] to anyone else,” Johnson said. “These are things that could be embarrassing to share with other people, or things that they are concerned about how other people might view them, so this is a form for people to get it out there, get it off their chest.”

Johnson added people feel the need to get it off their chest because thoughts or feelings linger, and we as humans must find a way to expel that. Social psychologists call this “reappraising” their emotions.

“To have a forum where you could discuss things that you wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing in any other format can be really beneficial to people to work through feelings or events that have happened to them that they’re still carrying around that may still be upsetting,” Johnson said.

He added that this is also another benefit of going to therapy, therefore releasing these secrets to whatever medium, be it a stall, a piece of mail or an app, can be very therapeutic.

Patricia Madej can be reached at

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