A Look at the Whisper App’s Unsafe “Schools” Feature

We’ve written more than once in the past about the Whisper app, and how it’s not the safest place online for teens. In a post from last year titled “Whisper app is enabling dangerous teen behavior”, we covered issues such as self-harm that have attracted teens on the app, and not in an entirely positive way.

Whisper started out as an anonymous, photo-based app where users could post text messages superimposed over images, typically secrets or confessions. Whisper has location functionality, but unlike Yik Yak, location is not necessarily a key feature. Earlier this year, Whisper rolled out a “Schools” feature that makes each user’s location more critical, especially for some young users.

The way the app works for browsing is that users can search by term or category using the “Discover” tab, or can browse posts sorted by “Latest”, “Nearby”, “Popular” and now “Schools”.

We decided to search for our local high school, Hunterdon Central Regional High School, which is a couple of miles away. You can see below how easy it is to connect to a school’s feed after tapping on the “Schools” tab, whether you are a student there or not.

whisper-schools

We were easily able to sign up for the school’s feed, and scroll through posts presumably made mostly or exclusively by our “fellow students”. We’ve highlighted a few of them below.

whisper-unsafe-teens

  • In the first post, the user claims to be a 15-year old looking for anonymous romance. He posts his Kik messaging user name publicly, which we strongly advise against.
  • The second post appears to be a user looking for someone interested in phone sex. This could be anyone.
  • whisper-weed-dealerThe third is someone looking to have weed delivered to her (?) home. She lists the country road on which she lives, and presumably is willing to give her complete address to a stranger.

The image at right is one of the responses to the third image.

The Whisper app hasn’t been in the news much lately, which is probably a good thing as far as parents are concerned. Yik Yak appears to be the anonymous app of choice for kids who are up to no good. A key difference between how users post on the two apps leads us to believe that parents should be concerned about teens using Whisper as well. Here’s why.

Yik Yak’s notoriety is based mostly on the fact that it has been used for dozens of school threats, many of which involved in police involvement and arrests. It appears that rogue Yik Yak users favor the app to cause trouble (threats, harassment etc.), whereas Whisper users prefer that app when looking to get into trouble (casual sex, drug deals etc.).

Whisper has critical mass and is bigger than Yik Yak – an estimated 10 million users, vs. 3.5 million for Yik Yak. Whisper’s age limit is 17, but just like most apps, they are powerless to enforce that limit – you can post that you’re 15-years old and nothing happens. Since Whisper is anonymous, it is impossible for parents to effectively keep track of what their teens are doing on there. Whisper is likely to grow in popularity at schools, and as such we reiterate the warning we’ve given parents before – it’s a good idea to keep teens off the Whisper app altogether.

 

 

 

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Whisper App Linked to Rape of 16 Year-Old Girl in Bensalem, PA

Whisper App is an anonymous, location-based app that isn’t new, but is new for a lot of parents. The app is being called out for whisper-app-homehaving been used by a predator this week, in a case where a 16 year-old teen was allegedly raped by a 42 year-old male after “meeting” on Whisper.

The app was launched in March of 2012, (you can read our overview of Whisper here) and to be fair they do a pretty good job of policing and deleting cyberbullying, pornographic images and other posts that violate their Terms of Use. The app was created to allow users to divulge secrets without having to reveal their true identity, but problems have arisen when two anonymous users end up meeting in person, and one of the people has less than pure motives. In an interview with All Things D, the Whisper CEO Michael Heyward offered the following:

“The problem with profile-based networks is they’re always trying to make you be one person. You can’t be captain of football and really like “Glee.” You can’t be a great dad and a huge tattoo enthusiast. We connect people around content, rather than connecting around people.”

whisper-secretThat sounds good in principle, but consider Whisper from the point of view of a predator. The app is truly anonymous – nobody will know your true identity or age unless they meet you in person. Whisper is location based – by default, your location is revealed with each post, although users can turn location off for individual posts, or by disabling the GPS tracking on their phone. So, a predator who is looking for a teenage girl in the Northeast Philadelphia area will be able to find people who appear to be just that, and attempt to strike up a conversation.

We’re sure that most teens don’t begin using Whisper as a means to meet people in real life, but one can’t discount the resourcefulness of predators. If a predator does see a post in his area that looks like it was posted by a teenage girl (or whatever type of person he is looking for), he can reply either via public or private message, and attempt to establish a dialog. In the case above, the predator and teen had been communicating for weeks before meeting in person.

The really bad news for parents is that it is impossible to monitor teens on Whisper unless the parent has access to the teen’s phone and passwords, including their Whisper password.

Even if predators are rare on Whisper and other social networks, they do exist. Whisper is an app that is by its very nature one that your teen should avoid, even if their intent is to only use it to share silly secrets. The risk is too great.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

Whisper App is Enabling Dangerous Teen Behavior

Whisperwhisper-app-home is an anonymous, GPS enabled app that has been rising in popularity since its launch in 2012. It hasn’t blown up like Snapchat or Instagram, but it is steadily growing its user base, particularly among teens and millennials.

We wrote in January about a glaring challenge for parents who are interested in monitoring their teen on Whisper. Unless you have your teen’s phone in your hand, logged in, you will not even be able to figure out which user is your child, much less monitor posts and interactions.

To see what your teen has been up to on Whisper, you’ll need to access his or her phone (do you know the home screen password?), open the Whisper app, click on the Activity tab and enter the PIN number (yes, you need that too). We understand that it’s a lot of work and you’ll need your teen’s cooperation…

The biggest problem with Whisper isn’t cyberbullying, as is the case with many other anonymous platforms. Nor is the problem that many of the user posts are confessions. A teen saying, “I have a crush on my lab partner,” or “I got into Stanford and I really don’t want to go” isn’t much of a problem at all.

The problem as we see it that the user community is becoming a support group for young users either into self-harm, secretly living a life of destructive behavior, or both.

whisper-examplesThe search function on Whisper works well, and a user searching for hashtags such as #thinspo (inspiration for eating disorder sufferers), #proana (pro anorexia), #promia (pro bulimia), #cutting (self mutilation), or posts related to suicide or instagram-warningsubstance abuse will find plenty of posts, supportive users and peers to connect with.

It is worth noting that Whisper falls far short of another prominent app, Instagram, in keeping kids safe and mentally healthy. For example, on Instagram if you search for #thinspo, a warning message pops up (pictured at right) including a link to resources for support of eating disorder sufferers. Whisper offers no such warnings or support.

It is our opinion that Whisper should be much more proactive in offering a safer user experience in the cases where young people stumble across harmful behaviors, and more resources for those who are currently suffering.

As is the case with a lot of problematic teen internet use, the solution lies in communication between parents and kids. Given how Whisper works, open communication is absolutely the first line of defense, or first step in charting a better course of behavior.

If someone from Whisper reads this and would like to offer comment, we’re all ears.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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