Will selfies soon become a thing a thing of the past? For more than a decade social media has been the place to connect with friends old and new, raise awareness for causes and share intimate details of your life that in many cases might have best been kept secret. But considering the recent rise of anonymous social networks, the openness that’s been the trademark of websites such as Facebook and Twitter may soon be falling into irrelevance.
In the past two years, millions have flocked to sites and apps that promise users complete anonymity in their postings, including Secret, Backchat and Whisper. Whisper, which lets members anonymously tell secrets for the world to see, has become especially popular. According to Forbes, by June 2013 the app had been downloaded 2 million times and was opened an average of six to eight times per day.
Unsurprisingly, this new online trend has been spurred by young people. Seton Hall communications professor Dr. Kyle Heim, who teaches the class Social Media in Journalism and Public Relations, said the popularity of anonymous social networks is likely a reaction to the oversaturation of traditional social media by older crowds.
“Young people went on sites like Facebook and they were excited to see all of their friends there, and then suddenly their parents, their professors (and) their employers were also on Facebook, and that started to scare them,” Heim said. “It was easier to put your name out there when the only people you were friends with were friends in your age group. But now when everyone’s on social media, I think people want to find some ways to hide.”
The anonymous app Anomo certainly has experienced the power of a young audience. According to co-founder James Sun, 85 percent of members are between the ages of 16 and 27, and Anomo is growing more than 200 percent each month. The app allows Facebook-verified users to chat anonymously through avatars. They also have the option of revealing their identities and can even check in at locations to meet in person.
Sun, who was a finalist on “The Apprentice” in 2007, said the anonymity of Anomo gives members the total freedom of expression not seen since the early days of the internet. But unlike other anonymous social media that are mainly about making confessions, he said the purpose of his app is to let people bond with each other in a genuine fashion.
“We’re using anonymity to help people meet others in an interesting way in the safety of anonymity so they end up actually revealing real things about themselves,” Sun said. “They build a real relationship over time.”
Though clearly anonymous social media has its benefits, Heim said he doesn’t believe it will completely replace the traditional public forums. Rather, he said they can be compatible.
“Instead of people just using Facebook, they’ll start using different social media tools for different purposes,” Heim said. “It depends on what kind of information you want to share.”
Sean Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.