Secret has been a victim of bad PR since the day it launched. It has received mixed emotions from the users and the industry and the Social Media early adopters. The content on it has been largely on topics related to sex, porn, one-night stands and startup scandals. Or at least that’s my circle, and admitting this embarrasses me a little.
The recent bad PR that I read was this Pando’s piece that had as scandalous a title as the app itself. “Secret Founder doesn’t care if teenagers kill themselves, as long as they don’t cause him a PR Headache”.
The app in my knowledge hasn’t caused a suicide yet, but reviewers are worried that it will. And this is surely a worry of the cofounder of Secret as well. Why else would he retort as immaturely that too publicly? A post on secret would have been better? (*Wink*).
@sarahcuda FWIW, the link in this article drove ~0.0013% of last 24 hour’s overall traffic to our home page. Thanks.
— David Byttow (@davidbyttow) August 1, 2014
Christine Lu who is an advocate for teen mental health issues in silicon valley had reached out to Secret’s cofounder on Twitter addressing her concerns over the chances of the app being a reason for possible teen suicides. With a few email exchanges that showed little interest from the secret’s team, this issue very soon became a PR crisis. The detailed story is available here. If you do end up reading all of PandoDaily’s articles about this whole issue, it almost seemed to me like they were out to get the app down. In either case, this new phenomenon is difficult to deal with; it is unnerving the way humans are evolving. We are being thrown into a puddle of many emotions to deal with, that it is our responsibility to step back and retrospect. Hence this post!
You still don’t know what the app does?
For the uninitiated, Secret is a mobile app that allows you to put up messages anonymously. It shows on your timeline, secrets that your friends and friends of friends are sharing. It picks your friends from mobile numbers stored in your contacts list on your phone and it recently added the Facebook connect feature too. Since the app is completely anonymous, one can only imagine what dirt and filth is being washed in public, only that this is not entirely public. The person at the receiving end is the one who is being talked about. It can even be an organization that is being begrudged and insulted. No amount of guesses can solve the mysteries of who has posted and who is commenting. Someone can start a thread, put up a secret and people have the chance to comment on it. Which only means that more bitching can happen.
What is so exciting about it?
Remember high school? You would if you were bullied. And if you were bullied then this is your chance to get back at anyone who is even a tiny bit famous. Secret is filled with people insulting Twitter influencers, those who go to tweetups, take up brand activities, or some who have a voice. It is also filled with obscene messages about girls on Twitter, which personally I find very degrading. Imagine someone abusing your girlfriend, wife, or sister and ogling at their assets. It would cause immense rage wouldn’t it? Some of the girls that were talked about are friends. But this is exactly why the platform is always buzzing. People get to hide behind the mask of anonymity and be rude and mean, give manifestation to their insecurities. I have to admit, albeit embarrassingly, that initially I enjoyed it too. I felt like finally someone is speaking up, and calling a spade a spade.
The notifications were abuzz, threads were followed and subscribed to. I didn’t want to miss out on the juicy gossip floating around. I will not reprimand myself, for it is human nature to enjoy a little gossip. I didn’t want to miss the bus, not to be an early adopter, for I would become the odd man out in the next twitter chat about some popular threads. A paper on Cyberbulling shares that anonymity “aids in freeing individuals from traditionally constraining pressures of society, conscience, morality, and ethics.” Thereby making secret a place to speak what we otherwise cannot. It allows us to take up what I call the “Page 3” nature, where you blow air kisses and be BFF’s when you meet at a party, but only to bitch about each other once the curtains fall. This scandalous nature of the content being shared, drew the world towards the app almost like a black hole sucking everything around it.
What did it aim to be?
I think all of us have misunderstood the context in which the app has laid itself out. A simple light coloured text in the comment box of secret says “Say something kind” The subtext of this text means, secret the app, is wanting people to share their deepest personal secrets, their apprehensions, their inhibitions, that they cannot otherwise share, for fear of being judged. The app then wants the friends of a user to encourage, to comfort, to maybe even come out and claim of having suffered similar ordeals. What else would “Say something kind” mean? If someone is suicidal, what is that you do to turn the situation around. What do welfare organizations, social workers, people like Christine Lu, closer home: friends and family do? They “Say something kind”. Don’t believe me? Read their intent in their guidelines here.
“We created Secret to give people a new way to freely share and connect with friends. We believe anonymity empowers people to share their deepest thoughts and feelings, sparking genuine conversations that would otherwise be impossible. Words are at the center of every secret, and it is our hope that our users will help us create a community that is a safe and liberating place for users to authentically express themselves. By using Secret, you agree to abide by these Community guidelines.”
Blame a bomb for killing people?
That would be insanely silly no? Bombs don’t drop by on homes and communities by themselves. It is the darkness in us humans that allows us to shamelessly commit acts of crime. By blaming the app do we want to get rid of our guilt as a society? I am sure if we take a minute to think, we will realize that the 7 deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride are prevalent on all social networks and not just secret. The same paper on cyber bulling shared, “Across the sample, the most common sites in which cyberbullying occurred were email (21%), online chatrooms (20%), social networking sites (20%) and mobile phones (19%). Other websites (8%) and other forms of texting, such as Twitter (6%), were also reported. Through free-text response, 12% of participants also reported MSN Messenger as a cyberbullying tool.” (Miller & Hufstedler, 2009; Beale & Hall, 2007). The numbers would have changed a bit, but the underlying message is that it’s all around us.
The Good of the Good, Bad and Ugly
Michael Heyward, the cofounder and CEO of Whisper, an app similar to Secret, once tweeted this image
— Michael Heyward (@michaelheywire) March 15, 2014
In response to the above crisis, Byttow, Secret’s Cofounder shared a statement,
We’ve invested a lot into people and systems to keep Secret safe. It’s how we’ve managed to curate a thriving community in less than six months.
In March, we were just three people, including me and Chrys. SJ was not a full-time employee. I hired SJ because she has experience that very few others have. It’s important for me to build out the strongest team to solve these problems.
Today, we give users the tools to report, block and hide content. Additionally, we work hard to moderate the community 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. We always aim to get faster and smarter. You can find our public community guidelines here: http://secret.ly/community.
Suicide prevention is something we take very seriously, yet as a society still know surprisingly little about. We provide resources for users to either contact help via phone or online. Some of the many resources we share are http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ and http://www.7cupsoftea.com/.
Hope that helps. Stay tuned.
Do we rebuke and admonish alcohol-production companies for the production of alcohol that consume and destroy lives of many all across the world. No, we instead let them support the world economy and believe and have faith in the inherent wisdom of people to consume in measured quantities.
We should similarly welcome the app to help grow the digital economy, the more ways of communications open up, the closer the world becomes.
Running a business, doesn’t mean shutting a business
Whether we like it or not, secret is a business, infact it raised $25 Million in venture capital and this second round of funding gives the company a market value of $100 million, according to the New York Times.
All businesses owe the societies that they thrive in, but that doesn’t make them accountable for the misdoings of the society. In legal matters and in morality, Secret seems to have taken the right steps to curb negativity from floating around.
What else you need to know
While no Indian brands have yet dared to use secret to connect to their audience, the fashion brand Gap, claims to have been the first to use the app.
The attempt seems futile to me though. What was achieved by this post; apart from a few boastful PR articles that this brand is the first to hop on to the app.
But this is exactly what raises an important question of a business model for the social network that threatens to lead teens to suicides. Which brand would want to be attached to such a risk. Also in my research I understood that it so far doesn’t track any relevant data apart from location and basic Facebook profile details that anyways would be available. Why then does it become a platform where brands would invest time? I would perhaps write another post on innovative ways brands can use secret to interact and engage their TG.
For now the bone of contention is whether or not this app creates more value in our lives or is degrading the quality of our emotions even further. I would like to believe that no lands are pure and impure within themselves; it’s the minds of people that are pure or impure.