Hmm. Secret to open anonymous ‘Secret Dens’

By Anne Collier

Secret appIt’s unusual to see a tech reporter anticipating Net safety problems with a new social app feature. So I was impressed with a post by’s Sarah Perez about Secret’s forthcoming addition of “Secret Dens” for anonymous sharing in specific locations (like schools, companies and other organizations).

Launched early this year, Secret is an app for sharing thoughts, “secrets,” etc. (somewhat) anonymously with friends, friends’ friends or publicly (I say “somewhat” because the smaller the circle of sharing, the more easily recipients can guess who’s sharing, right?). With the Android version launched last month, users could also see anonymous messages shared nearby and not in their social networks (using geolocation). With the “Secret Dens” feature its developers are testing now, all this gets more clubby in an oddly sort of anonymous way.

Dens of anonymity?

“Any posts made in the Den are visible only to other Den members,” according to “As with the anonymous mainstream Secret app, members of a Den aren’t given the identities of other Den members but they do get a notification when somebody joins – just not the new member’s name.” And, adds, “any member of a Den has the right to remove anybody else from the domain.”

Sure Secret Dens could be fun, but users will want to be alert to the anti-social potential, e.g., exclusive we-they situations, marginalization or promotion of self-harm. I just can’t help but wonder if it once entered legal or marketing minds at Secret how anonymous “Secret Dens” would play with parents. Maybe there no parents at this startup.

“This is an interesting move for Secret,” Perez reports, “as its two top competitors [Yik Yak and Whisper] have shown to place a priority on moderation and reporting features in order to combat bullying as well as potentially ‘triggering’ messages that could provoke some users to engage in self-harm.” Here‘s my post in March on how Yik Yak is different from other social media, and then about its move to geo-fence off middle and high schools.

Users need help sometimes

As for Whisper, besides heavily moderating posts (reportedly), it “points some more afflicted users to its related non-profit arm, YourVoice,” Perez reports. Although “nonprofit arm” may be overstating it a bit (it’s a Web site), it is commendable that Whisper pulled together a diverse set of resources it could send troubled users to and not leave them high and dry. links to articles, campus resources, support organizations and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

I was glad to see links to the Lifeline and (the youth peer-to-peer support site) in there. But I was surprised not to find listed the Trevor Project’s hotline for LGBTQ youth (1-866-4-U-TREVOR), the hotline (1-866-331-9474) for dating abuse in the Relationships category or the 24/7 Crisis Text Line for teens – maybe I missed something? See also’s list of Resources for Youth in Crisis.

Pro-social media companies

“Secret, on the other hand, has struggled with bullying in its early days, allowing public figures in the tech industry to be ruthlessly mocked for hours or days before the offending comments were removed, if they even were [see this]. I agree with Perez that Secret may not really be ready to open “Secret Dens” out in the wild – not until it simultaneously introduces proactive community moderation and a responsive abuse reporting system. Does it really want to become an anti-social media company? I believe that, in this very social media environment, there can’t ultimately be much place or success for anti-social participants, whether individuals or organizations. As the social norms of this media environment solidify, investors and users will increasingly demand pro-social business practices, and social media startups that allow for social marginalization and other anti-social behavior will increasingly be marginalizing themselves (see this). Social norms develop in every social environment, including in media environments, and they are protective – they’re the part of “Internet safety” we’ve barely begun to talk about.

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