January 29, 2023

It seems like every few years a new anonymous messaging platform enters the market. Quickly gain fan base, investment, and media attention; then crash and burn. Often, the cause is some combination of unbridled bullying, harassment, or misinformation that is rampant within the platform.

However, applications keep popping up. One of the latest offerings is NGL, which invites users to ask their followers anonymous questions and comments on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or elsewhere. liquified natural gas, The app’s website explains“Representatives don’t lie.”

During June and the first half of July, NGL was downloaded about 3.2 million times in the United States, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower. Sensor Tower said it was the 10th most downloaded app in the Apple and Google Play stores in June.

“Anonymity has always been the secret sauce,” says Sherry Turkel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies the relationship between people and technology. The desire for anonymous self-expression is nothing new, she said, citing some church confessions as an example.

But, she added, the desire for anonymity has never been anonymity itself. After all, in many cases the promise of anonymity is false, or at best qualified – priests often know who the confessor is, and apps that collect and distribute secrets are simultaneously collecting users’ private data. In fact, NGL, which started in November, went a step further, offering users tips about their respondents for $9.99 a week.

Professor Turkle said: “Anonymity is a way of opening the door to a sense of space and permission, to that borderline space between realms, where you can express what is real or say what you cannot express for the rest of your life. The real thing,” author of The Empathy Diary: A Memoir.

Harold David, 34, an administrator at a fitness company in New York, recently tried NGL. “It’s funny to see what people say when they’re anonymous,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to know someone’s secret thoughts about them?”

He said he saw some friends use the app and expected “rude or obscene” comments. But, he said, “it was actually a warm response from people about my experience, so it was a really nice surprise.”

Haras Shirley, 26, a school resource officer in Indianpolis, had a less positive experience. Mr. Shirley received about a dozen responses after posting links to the NGL on Facebook and Instagram.

“I think there will be more questions about my transition and I’ll be able to provide some insight on how to appropriately ask those questions,” he said. Instead, he said, most of the questions were superficial, asking what his favorite color was, or the last thing he ate.

He understands the appeal of the app. “These apps make you feel like people are interested in who you are and want to know more about you,” he said. But it’s not for him. “It’s really aimed at kids in middle and high school,” he said.

As soon as the app took off, it was met with criticism.

Anonymous messaging platforms such as ASKfm, Yik Yak, Yolo and LMK have long fought to curb bullying, harassment and threats of violence. News on Yik Yak led several schools to evacuate students in response to bomb and shooting threats. Anonymous messaging apps Yolo and LMK are being sued by the mother of a suicidal teen (the apps were integrated into Snapchat, whose parent company Snap was originally a defendant in the lawsuit, but not anymore).

Secret, another anonymous messaging app, shut down in 2015 despite investments from major Silicon Valley players.in a middle position In announcing the closure of the company, co-founder David Please wrote that anonymity was “the ultimate double-edged sword.”

Mitch Prinstein, chief scientific officer of the American Psychological Association, said that on the Internet, people believe that the opinions of a few people represent a large portion of the population.

“Anonymity,” he says, “makes it worse.” The result is that if someone leaves an anonymous comment saying your hair is ugly, for example, you start to think that everyone thinks your hair is ugly.

NGL’s website says its community guidelines are “coming soon” and that the app uses “world-class artificial intelligence content moderation.” It directs users to the website of Hive Moderation, a company that uses software to filter text, images and audio based on categories such as bullying and violence. NGL did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

“You don’t have to use trigger words to be unkind,” notes Pamela Rutledge, director of the Center for Research in Media Psychology.

“If someone starts using racial slurs or anything they can get through artificial intelligence, you can stop them,” Dr Rutledge said. “But it’s hard to draw a line around comments that undermine your perception of yourself.”

When 28-year-old Los Angeles musician Reggie Baril posted an NGL link on Instagram for his 12,000 followers, he looked forward to questions about his career. “I was wrong,” he said. Of the 130 replies he received, “more hatred than nothing”.

During the phone interview, he read several comments aloud. “You could have been so successful, but you have a bad attitude and you’re not going to be successful,” he said. “I’m not sure Reggie in 2015 will like Reggie in 2022.” Another called him a “social climber.”

He was surprised by the acidity. “I’m not a combative person at all,” he said. “I like to joke and be silly and silly.” He decided not to take the comments personally. “I read a lot of insecurities in the subtext,” he said.

In online reviews, NGL users say the app provides them with fake questions and reviews, a phenomenon of tech-focused publications Including TechCrunch Said they had reproduced with their own tests. It is unclear whether these responses were generated by the app or by the bot.

Johnny G. Lloyd, 32, a playwright living in New York, downloaded NGL to increase his Instagram engagement ahead of the premiere of his new play. In the 3 times he used it, he noticed some strange commits.

“I have a question of, ‘Which girl have you texted recently?'” he said. “It doesn’t matter at all in my life. That’s the wrong tree.” Another message was more cryptic. “It said ‘you know what you did,'” Mr Lloyd said. “It’s obviously aimed at a younger audience.”

While trying out NGL, Clayton Wong, a 29-year-old editorial assistant in Los Angeles, received an unexpected “confession” that led him to search the Internet for specific love songs. Mr. Wang suddenly became suspicious. “I don’t think it’s a good song,” he said. “If this person knew me, they’d know it wasn’t something I would like.”

after he browsed Notes During the song on YouTube, he realized that dozens of people had received an anonymous “confession” who directed them to the same video.

One of Mr Baril’s musician friends, Johan Lenox, expected a “chaotic” NGL experience, but the opposite turned out. He’s amazed that people hide their identity when they ask him what he does after a performance or what it’s like to be a musician. It made him wonder what the app was all about.

“If you want to talk to someone, how are you going to do that by sending anonymous notes?” he said. He thinks NGL will meet the fate of other applications that disappear without a trace as soon as they appear. “No one is going to talk about it in a month,” he said.

Alain Delaqueriere contributed research.

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