'Whisper' taking the 'me' out of social media

VENICE, Calif. (KABC) -- Whisper is taking some of the "me" out of social media.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In, users never provide their names to this social network. There are no profile pictures. Everything posted to the app is completely anonymous.

Whisper is one of several "anonymous" social networks growing in popularity. The Venice-based Whisper reports 6 billion page views every month.

Twenty-six-year old Michael Heyward co-founded Whisper, in part, due to his frustration with other social networks. He felt sites like Facebook were too often filled with "bragging" photos and not enough honest ones.

"You don't necessarily share your secrets with your good friends because you're nervous about all the social pressure. They might judge you or treat you differently. Whereas, you'd be much more inclined to share these things with complete strangers," said Heyward.

Heyward said if thoughts could be shared "anonymously," a new dialogue could be opened up. "This is an opportunity to share the 90 percent of things that people don't necessarily share but they think a lot!" he said.

Users can download the app for free to their smart phones and begin posting within moments. They never have to fill out a profile or share their personal information.

To post a "Whisper," users simply type out their message and the app automatically suggests an image to be paired with it. Users have the option of adding their own image.

Users also can respond to other Whispers and begin a conversation with others users inside the app.

"It allows for a different kind of connection that perhaps exists on a deeper level," said Heyward.

The content produced ranges from the silly to the serious to the sad. It includes everything from posts about chocolate chip cookies to Iraq War memories to suicide threats.

Those who post suicidal thoughts are directed to a suicide prevention hotline and to Whisper's own foundation, Your Voice.

To avoid gossip, the site bans proper names from being discussed.

Whisper employs people to constantly read every posting. They look for negative content to remove and interesting content to promote.

"Every day we see people who post things like, 'I had a conversation with somebody on Whisper that saved my life!'" said Heyward.

USC Professor Karen North, who specializes in the study of social media, said "anonymous" social networking is a growing trend.

North said Whisper constantly monitoring its content is key. "The ones that work the best are the ones where the team at the app helps to curate the experience," North said.

North said the app Secret is also extremely popular. That app shows secrets from the user's friends, but doesn't say what friends the secrets come from.

"Regardless of whether there's a person attached to it, people feel like they're peering into someone's private lives," said North.

But, North said, there can be a downside. "Whenever there's anonymity, there's a risk for bad behavior. The problem is we are raised to pay attention to social cues. If we say something hurtful, we see it in the face or hear it in the voice."

The site Juicy Campus allowed for nasty gossip about college students. It eventually shut down and the founder created an app to spread kindness.

"When people post things online, they can be permanent, they can be public and the public can be beyond the audience intended," said North.

These "anonymous" apps can also have unexpected positive uses.

Whisper said its use in Iraq has doubled since forces have recently cracked down on most traditional social media sites.

One Whisper user wrote, "all social media were stopped in Iraq. My only escape is Whisper."

Heyward believes the site is giving users a voice, even if they don't share their names. "We're really trying to provide a world that's more empathetic, more caring, more compassionate, and ultimately more connected."

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