Everyone has a secret. It used to be that individuals shared their secrets with their closest friends, maybe by a note passed in class, a late-night telephone conversation, or even hunkered down in the back corner of a restaurant or bar. With the development of communication technologies and the prevalence of social media platforms, real-life interactions and secret-sharing has become a thing of the past. Now, individuals turn to social media sites where anonymity allows them to share their secrets with millions of individuals, none of whom actually know each other. This creates a unique kind of community where the culture is created from and thrives off of anonymity and the fact that individuals can connect and form relationships with one another, without truly knowing each other.
One such social media application is Whisper. Whisper defines itself as “an anonymous social network that allows people to express themselves, connect with like-minded individuals, and discover the unseen world around us” (Whisper Text LLC, 2014). With this application individuals can share Whispers, or secrets, and post it to the digital interface of the application where other individuals can see it, like it, comment on it, and connect with it. The application makers tout that “With Whisper, you can anonymously share your thoughts and emotions with the world, and form lasting and meaningful relationships in a community built around trust and honesty” (Whisper Text LLC, 2014). The individuals on Whisper connect to each other because of these secrets, which present a shared theme or ideal with which other individuals identify. Anonymity plays a large function in why this application works well because individuals can share their various secrets, whether they are fears, confessions, selfish, violent, sexual, religious, etc., and not feel as though they will be judged in the same way as if they were sharing these secrets on other social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, where connected friends and family might see the intimate revelations.
There are two separate ways an individual can experience communication via the Whisper application: the website, and an application for a smartphone, ipad, or tablet. The website is much less integrative that the downloadable application as its only features are being able to search Whispers trending topics and viewing Whispers by category. The application, however, allows for a fuller user experience. Not only does the application allow an individual to search out other Whispers by topic and category, it allows an individual to post his or her own Whisper, comment on other Whispers, like other Whispers, and chat with other users.
Again, while the online website allows individuals to read and search out Whispers, the downloadable application is where the community of Whispers is mainly developed because of the additional functions the application offers individuals. Community members can not only connect just by reading each other’s Whispers but by “liking” another individual’s secret, replying or commenting on other Whispers, and chatting with other users about their secrets.
Whispers presents an interesting culture wherein individuals create connections by sharing their inner secrets. However, one thing I noticed as I explored the application was that there are repetitive types of secrets that are shared and interactions that occur because of those secrets. The patterns that I observed where: individuals who have no other place to share secrets, most specifically those who share that they have no friends or family to talk to; individuals who are looking for a non-judgmental place to vent; individuals who are looking for reassurance or justification of their feelings; individuals whose main goal is to “hook up” with someone random for sexual purposes; individuals who want to connect with others in some way other than for sexual reasons.
I submitted multiple forms of Whispers throughout the past few weeks: secrets on my relationship, my career, my home life, my self-image, etc. It was interesting to see other Whispers that fell into the same categories, but also the interactions that the different types of secrets received. For example, I shared a secret about buying a book on seduction to help me feel more confident in private situations with my fiancé. I also shared a secret about how I try to avoid conflict, but must sometimes take on a mediator role with my job and how I feel as though I fail at that aspect. Both Whispers received large amounts of likes and replies, however, the difference lies in the type of replies they received. Whereas the Whisper about my relationship received a small number of individuals who either felt the same way or applauded me for taking charge of my relationship, a large number of comments were from individuals who thought that they could help my situation by offering their own “services”. Perhaps because the secret was somewhat sexual in nature, it received a high response of sexual comments and individuals who attempted to initiate chat conversations that were sexual in nature. On the other hand, my Whisper about my professional career received a large number of individuals who commiserated with my plight, as well as others who offered advice, support, and reassurance that I was not a failure at my job, even if I felt that my skills were lacking in an area.
In my experience, I discovered a dichotomy in how I felt about the Whisper community and culture. On the one hand, the anonymity the application provides allows for a high sexual overtone to permeate the community, an overtone that I was not entirely comfortable with. Granted, this does reflect current society today, even in an offline setting, where there is an abundance of hyper-sexuality present in our daily interactions. However, the sexual overtones did not make me feel as though I would develop the “lasting and meaningful relationships in a community built around trust and honesty” that the application touted, although there were some individuals who shared my same sentiment and reached out to connect with me (Whisper Text LLC, 2014).
However, the responses that I received to my career plight provided me with a stronger sense of community and bonding as individuals who responded to my Whisper appeared to genuinely want to help, support, and reassure me that I could still be successful in my job. To this day, I still will reach out to some of those individuals, especially when I have had a bad day at work, and we will share thoughts and perceptions on our jobs, as well as other aspects of our lives. I may not know who these individuals are that I communicate with, but I do feel a connection with them, and have found that I have somewhat altered my online and offline identity by including anonymous individuals in my personal support system who help to affect my professional and personal self-image.
Whisper Text LLC (2014). Whisper (Version 4.3.10) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=sh.whisper&hl=en