Websites and apps that allow anonymous comments to be posted without fear of repercussion have come under fire as suicides as the result of cyberbullying become a more common event.
One of these apps, Secret, recently failed a spot test performed by staff members of Fortune to see if the platform lived up to creators David Byttow and Chrys Bader’s claims that Secret is a safe place for people to express themselves.
According to Byttow and Bader, their current policy states that pornography, bullying, threats, hate speech, encouragement of self-harm, graphic content, private information, copyrighted content and spam are prohibited from the app.
While this sounds like a good plan, it may not work so well in practice. Dan Primack from Fortune decided to put Secret’s anti-bullying system to the test.
Yesterday at 1:30pm ET, I posted the following message to Secret:
“Sophie R slept with Mr Jacobs after graduation. I’m sure Jared doesn’t know. Slut!”
Several of my Fortune colleagues favorited the post, and contributed their own negative comments about “Sophie R.”
Another colleague flagged the post for bullying after an hour of it being up on the app. It disappeared from her stream but it remained on everyone else’s and online for a full 24 hours.
Only when the Fortune staff informed Secret of the post was it taken down. During the time it was u,p other random people liked and commented on the post even though they obviously had no clue who “Sophie R” was. Secret responded by saying there was a software bug that would be fixed immediately and sent Fortune the following message:
The post you referenced was detected by our automated system, but not fully taken down fast enough. There are several proprietary factors at play here too (e.g. location of post, reputation of author, etc) that are taken into account. In fact, we prioritize high schools closely based on location and network.
Nevertheless, this post should be taken down based on content (and was) as it’s a clear violation of our guidelines.
While Secret staff admits to its mistake in this situation the apps creators don’t seem to want to take social responsibility for how this may negatively impact many young lives.
Amanda Chatel for Bustle reports that despite warnings from Christine Lu, an advocate for mental health Byttow responded that “Suicide prevention is something we take very seriously, yet as a society still know surprisingly little about.”
In addition to their initial policy of what isn’t allowed on Secret, Byttow and Bader’s app employs a feature with which community members can flag a post if it goes against any of the app’s policies. When flagging a post, people can choose the reason why they are flagging it so that moderators can look at the most dangerous posts first and get to them efficiently.
This type of app has been gaining popularity in recent years with the likes of Whisper, Yik Yak, Formspring and Like a Little. Unfortunately, even though the intention of these platforms might bee to foster creative thinking and create a place where people can express themselves free of judgment it has turned into a place where cyber bullying runs rampant.
The solution to cyberbullying is a three-part ordeal, writes David Murphy for PC Magazine. First, define the posts that are not allowed; second, give the community tools to self police and third, have a great back-end tool that allows moderators to delete posts that have been flagged by the community or that pop up due to predetermined banned criteria.