Online anonymity is a rare luxury in today’s post-Snowden era, and a whole slew of apps and technologies have cropped up to meet the demand. Whisper is among the most prominent, boasting millions of users and billions of page views per month.
The app enables users to post anonymous confessions, interact with other users via chat, and vote up or down on trending Whispers. Subject matter can be intensely personal, funny or just chatty. It’s a forum for users to admit the worst thing they’ve ever done to a roommate, or to live-blog a standoff with police.
Unlike many other online forums, Whisper moderates for hateful speech in order to foster a positive community that allows users to feel comfortable.
“We employ close to 200 human beings who monitor nearly every Whisper unit that enters the service,” Neetzan Zimmerman, Whisper Editor-in-Chief, told Fusion Live. “Generally, online forums are rampant with that sort of nastiness that drives users away. Whisper is inclusive.”
This sense of safety and support encourages users to share experiences that would normally remain private. Fusion recently asked:
In just a few hours, we got almost 1,000 responses, many of which wouldn’t be shared without the condition of anonymity.
Zimmerman believes that the promise of anonymity encourages truthfulness, rather than creating an environment where people fabricate content to fit an online persona.
“When you attach your identity to something, the incentive to lie grows,” Zimmerman said. “You want to put on airs and impress people. When anonymity is in play, that incentive is gone. You can be yourself and be open.”
Zimmerman sees value to this unique sort of open community. Specifically, as a new and powerful journalistic tool.
“If you look at the biggest, most important story in journalism history, Watergate, it started as an anonymous source,” Zimmerman said. “Here, you have potentially a million Watergates waiting to break.”