It’s rare that I’ll ever say outright “don’t use this” or “this is bad,” but I want to call to your attention an app called Whisper. I’m not saying “don’t,” but I’m definitely saying be advised, there’s something to pay attention to with this one.
What Is It?
Whisper is a messaging app, available for both iOS and Android for free. The basic premise is that users can post very brief messages anonymously in the form of text over photos. Users can either upload their own photos or use what’s provided. There’s also a private messaging function (more on this later).
How Do People Use It?
It’s anonymous Q&A. You can post any kind of question, such as “What’s your favorite game?” or you can ask, “Should I cheat on my boyfriend.”
Lots and lots of the posts are somewhat angst-ridden in nature. “I’m 17 and have arthritis. I feel like I can’t have a normal life. WTF?”
“My heart is broken. I should just end it.”
That’s the first way people use it.
What’s the Problem?
The risk, such as it is, comes from two features and the general ambiance of the app itself.
- Users are anonymous and invited to confess, admit, flirt, and so on.
- There is a location feature, meaning that potential predatory actors (more on this in a moment) have location data on your child.
- The private chat feature means that a lot of interactions can (and do) happen outside of the public eye.
Of these, the first issue, the environment of the app, is what I believe is the challenge. Because the general conversation is a bit flirty, confession-based, and secretive, people are encouraged towards a more sexual conversation in general.
Any Chat App Can Be Dangerous or Healthy
You can find other news stories for popular apps like Discord (which my son uses) or Instagram (which my daughter and step-daughter use). It’s not something specific to Whisper.
There’s also the positive side to this kind of app. You can search for just a minute or two and find someone opening up, someone working through their social anxiety, someone coming out to strangers because it’s too hard to come out to their family or loved ones.
But because the stories seem to be stacking up, I thought it’d be a great checkpoint where you might have a conversation with the potential user of this app in your household.
Ways to Prepare for Whisper and Related Apps
First, it’s important to talk about the location function on all and any apps and browsers. Location is useful when using a map app, but it also has the potential to give away a user’s location, making it even easier for a potential predator to interact with and potentially meet up with the user in your house.
Second, whenever people use anonymous apps, there needs to be a conversation (and reminders) about the fact that people aren’t always who they say they are online. Someone might pose as a person of a similar age and gender to ask for pictures, or they might pose as someone of the opposite sex and provide comfort, only to be screenshotting and sharing your intimate details with the world.
Potential Agreement Between Grown Ups and Teens
First, not sure if I mentioned this, but I would very much not recommend this app for anyone under 15 at the bare minimum. (It’s estimated that 90% of the user base are around 18 years of age, according to some websites.)
It might be prudent if a teen is going to use Whisper to ask for the permission to do “spot checks” of private messages and the like, at random. This works for some people and not for others, but it might be a way to attempt to keep an eye on the process a bit.
Just to Be Clear: Whisper Isn’t a “Bad” App
There’s nothing malicious or inherently “bad” in Whisper. It’s an app that offers a very specific interaction and it’s operating as intended.
The “learning curve” for the kind of proper behavior required to use the app might be challenging to some users.
Apps are a very important part of how children, teens, and young adults all experience the world these days. As “fake” as you think of these online spaces, these are the new malls, the new strips, the new soda fountains (okay, that’s too old of a reference). Realize that straight out denying access to any kind of messaging apps might not be the best choice. But oversight? I think that’s a good move.
Disclaimer: This post is purely informational in nature and meant solely to be a starting point for discussions around the potential uses of technology. Nothing replaces conversations between adults and people growing towards adulthood. By all means, choose your own adventure. Your mileage may vary.
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