No secrets here
When I was in junior high school, I only knew one person who had the app Whisper. I remember them calling it “Tumblr, but, like, on the down-low.” Now, revisiting the platform years later, that statement was only partially correct.
Whisper is an online forum on which users can share their thoughts anonymously, from wives posting about their unhappy marriages to students sharing how they walk around school with vodka in their Swell bottles.
Whisper has made over $60 million since its launch in 2012 and has about 20 million monthly users in almost 200 different countries, according to Business Insider. But since then, the anonymous forum has been dying out after all of its board members stepped down from their positions last year. Now, there has been a significant decline of people posting their anonymous secrets.
But why still use Whisper? Users say it’s a vessel for venting, getting advice, getting laid, and posting encouraging quotes.
But the main selling point is anonymity. Users can say whatever they want on the forum without having to attach their name, and the worst that could happen is the app removing the post. When considering other websites people can be anonymous on, the anonymity reaches a certain extent; it’s common to hide behind a username not tied to an identity. The whole point behind Whisper is to be in a safe place where an individual can share a secret without judgement. One Whisper user posted that he has been “accidently” sleeping with the sister of his girlfriend who is struggling with cancer. Another posted that they have two female slaves. This shows that there are no real consequences for releasing secrets into the Internet, no matter the circumstances.
A positive aspect of Whisper includes allowing individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ to come out on their own terms, without having anyone know who they are. Saying it publicly all while being anonymous gives them the opportunity to come out safely, as many people feel that Whisper is the only place where they can disclose that information.
As for Whisper users, the reasoning behind the addiction is varied. One user has been hooked for five years to help loneliness. Another has been on for about a year, “without facing the backlash and judgement” from friends and family. Some users who identify as LGBTQ+ joined Whisper to come out, as they felt most comfortable coming out anonymously first. One called Whisper a “stepping stone” in this sense.
Whisper users also describe the liberation that comes with posting anonymously, with one person calling it “a form of therapy.” It is seen as a way to cope with personal issues and deal with the task of keeping a secret; as posting information under an alias is much easier than keeping it to yourself.
A big question remains: what will happen if Whisper shuts down? Almost all users I talked to said that there are significantly less people than there were a few years ago. Would the anonymous posting continue? If so, where?
Despite the lack of money the app makes, or board members stepping away from their positions, Whisper will not be shutting down anytime soon. The world has made definite strides in becoming a more accepting place for everyone since 5 or 6 years ago, there is still a lot of room to grow. More public social media platforms are on the rise, manifesting a different toxic environment. Whisper remains a safe place for many people, as platforms like Instagram and Twitter maintain their status of being potentially hateful spaces.
Currently, Instagram and Twitter hold the top spots in social media popularity, slowly leaving anonymous forums in the dust. These more public platforms may not inhibit anonymous gossiping and ranting, but instead allow users to create a certain image of themselves, whether it be authentic or not. The move from posting incognito to openly allows more room for authenticity and idealism, rather than the truth. But even with the decline of Whisper, some can’t seem to get rid of it, with most users saying they have been posting on and off for years. Whether it be for the purpose of getting something off your chest or for a sense of validation, anonymous forums ultimately remain a prominent part of today’s world.
Gigi Grady is a first-year journalism major who secretly wants Whisper to make a comeback. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.