Tech Savvy Parenting: Whisper

There is a never ending barrage of new apps entering the digital universe every day.  It would be a full time job to keep up to date on all of the new offerings.  This blog is slowly progressing through those apps that can be used for sexual purposes as well as their official or intended purpose.

One of these apps is Whisper.  It is very akin to the Post Secrets art project that was started in 2005 by artist Frank Warren.  (This too had become an app but was subsequently shut down) The idea behind Post Secret was for people to send a postcard that represented a secret they had never shared with anyone else.  The draw of the project was that it was completely anonymous.  The postcards have been made into books and currently the artist still maintains a website and social media account.

Whisper is an anonymous app that fundamentally does the same thing as its non-digital predecessor, Post Secret.  This app allows people to anonymously post a secret, desire, or simple statement to be seen by all other users. It also notifies users of posts created within a mile of the user.   The fundamental difference is that we are now in the digital world and apps are interactive.  Whisper then allows users to respond to the posts either publically or privately.   The company has recently implemented some changes that allow users to connect with others with similar interests, which they feel will help them reach an older audience.  Most users of Whisper are under the age of 22.

The concept of Whisper seems harmless.  It actually could be rather cathartic for a person to share a secret they have held for perhaps their entire life.  The ability to release a little bit of the shame surrounding the secret can, actually, be beneficial for the person with the secret.  Imagine the relief of being able to get something off your chest that you have held onto for a lifetime!  Additionally, knowing that perhaps there is someone out in the world with the same secret or feeling can help to minimize any thoughts or feelings of “I’m the only one who ever thought or did this” that the user may have.

Sometimes it seems like everything in the digital realm also has a downside.  Though Whisper can be used to help users purge their secrets, it can also be used to connect with others.  This connection can be simple chatting with an anonymous stranger or something a bit more personal or sexual.

I have had several clients who use the Whisper app.  When they see a user whose posts they like, they will connect with them.  The app enables the ability to chat and connect.  Often users who are chatting will then provide each other with their Kik ids so they can continue to chat on the messaging site kik (see previous post about kik).  Some people will then move this personal messaging into in person meetings for sexual purposes.

What then should parents do when it comes to anonymous apps?  This is a bit of a conundrum.  The entire point of an anonymous app is for the user to be able to share their thoughts and secrets in a manner in which no one they know becomes aware of their  thoughts and feelings.  As with other apps, blocking these apps can be helpful but is often a futile effort and game of catch up.  If you block an app today, another can appear tomorrow.  If you monitor your child’s use of the app, the secrets are no longer theirs.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this all comes down to parental communication with children.  Parents need to acknowledge that their children are not going to tell them everything and let them know that they understand the value of a secret.  However, they also need to education children about the value, or lack thereof, of posting secrets online where others can comment on them or try to connect.  Apps that allow chatting always involve some risk.  However, based on the research that is out there, we have to trust that children are more savvy than we think they are and do protect themselves online.  Though those children who do not or who are contacted by others with sexual purposes are a minority, we still need to talk to them about their own safety practices in the digital world and what to be wary of.

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