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This post refers to bullying and suicide and may be distressing to some readers.

Different kinds of anonymous social media

What is Anonymous Social Media?

Anonymous social media is a kind of social networking where the main functionality is to be able to interact and share content without the user’s identity being revealed. The medium is often used for “confession apps” like Whisper, or messaging apps like the recently trending Sarahah, an “honest feedback” app that allows users to post anonymous messages online. The app works as an add-on to Snapchat and can be synced with the contact list on your phone. Anonymous social media can also include forum sites like Reddit and 4chan, where posters start conversations on topics of interest, and there are even anonymous messaging features in blogging websites like Tumblr.

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Why should parents be concerned?

The content shared over these apps is largely unmoderated, and the anonymity features mean users can be cruel with no fear of consequence. Many apps have faced scrutiny for enabling cyber-bullying, for instance in 2013, the anonymous social media site Ask.fm was linked to the suicides of several teenagers who suffered abuse on the website. Following criticisms, the site made several changes to its online safety policy. It is now possible to disable the anonymous feature, and a reporting tool for abuse has been added.

Because the popularity of these apps can surge so unexpectedly, the developers are often overwhelmed by the number of users and cannot keep on top of the harassment that happens. Yik Yak, a messaging app that allowed people to create and view discussion threads within a set radius, faced scrutiny after the murder of a user who was repeatedly threatened through the app and the company shut down in 2017.

Forum sites can be a way for young people to find like-minded people and discuss interests, to see funny images and stories, or they can be hubs for online trolls. 4chan is easily the most notorious, as it is responsible for orchestrating some the largest hoaxes and mass cyberbullying incidents online. The site does not require any kind of registration and the content posted expires after a set amount of time, meaning no way to track who a poster is. It’s estimated to have 22 million users a month, and is purposely designed to be hard to understand for anyone who isn’t a regular user. 4chan is most infamous for events like “celebgate”, in which thousands of nude photos of celebrities were leaked, working together to bully children online and creating fake bomb threats.

If you or someone you know needs help, support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14, or at headspace.com

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