Anonymous apps have been around for years, but have been absolutely surging of late. It may just be a novelty, or perhaps there is a real need in the market for people to not be themselves, literally, at least for a while.
We understand that in many cases, being able to separate what you’re saying or doing from who you are, or who others think you are, breeds an elevated level of creativity. The problem with anonymous when it comes to being kind and respecting others’ feelings (or not) is that when one does not fear reprisal, or even identification, an unprecedented level of meanness can come to the fore.
That is exactly what we have been seeing in some cases with anonymous platforms such as Ask.fm, Secret, Skout, Whisper, YikYak and others.
At ThirdParent we talk a lot about digital citizenship – the need for youths to be aware and responsible online, and parents’ role in making that happen. I was surprised to wake up this morning and see that some prominent venture capitalists who invest in this area were joining the discussion.
Overnight, big money guys, some of whose investment portfolios include companies that provide anonymous platforms or apps, started speaking out on Twitter. Those involved included Marc Andreesen, (@pmarca), Paul Kedrosky (@pkedrosky) and Jason Calcanis (@jason).
It got kicked off, I think, by the following tweets from Netscape founder and current VC Andreesen:
3/Many software designers in last 10 years have done amazing job building social systems that encourage and enable positive human energy.
— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) March 15, 2014
4/Examples: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Path, Snapchat. Snapchat key case: Creates more trust, provides safe place for sharing. — Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) March 15, 2014
5/But: There are other systems in past & present designed to encourage negative behavior, tearing people down, making fellow souls sad. — Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) March 15, 2014
6/Such experiments start out as naughty fun, end with broken hearts and ruined lives. In the end everyone regrets participating in them. — Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) March 15, 2014
7/Since voyeurism is fundamental property of human nature, such systems will always get users. But to what end, and at what cost. — Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) March 15, 2014
8/I think as designers, investors, commentators, we need to seriously ask ourselves whether some of these systems are legitimate and worthy. — Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) March 15, 2014
It is worth noting that Andreesen’s firm, Andreesen Horowitz, is reported to be a large investor in Skout. Jason Calcanis weighed in with the following:
And at some point Calcanis asked Andreesen about his firm’s investment in Skout, but that tweet may have been deleted, or I can’t find it.
Good guy VC Paul Kedrosky offered the following:
In happier news, did my good deed for week, convincing local school to ban Secret/YikYak, et al. Toxic waste.
— Paul Kedrosky (@pkedrosky) March 15, 2014
Ryan Frietas correctly pointed out that YouTube was for a long time anonymous, and had only recently changed to “real name” identities, by linking YouTube to Google+:
— Ryan Freitas (@ryanchris) March 15, 2014
To my surprise, Secret (the anonymous app) got involved in the conversation:
— Secret (@getsecret) March 15, 2014
I’m pretty sure those guys understand.
We have no doubt that platforms that are likely to grow quickly will continue to be funded. It is not the venture capital industry’s job to police morality. This debate should raise awareness, though, that the use case for some anonymous systems is far less than friendly. Adults can take care of themselves, but children are at risk, so better awareness overall could have parents paying closer attention to where their kids are engaging.
There is more to the debate, and you can wade through most of it by jumping into @pmarca’s stream.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.