The fault in our secrets

The application Secret, which allows users to post anonymous comments, has been big news lately. Initially intended as an app through which people could post a question or problem in search of advice, as it rose in popularity, Secret took a turn to rumor-mongering. The founder of the controversial application, David Byttow, claimed that “the locations of secrets, which are saved at the moment the secret is posted, are sometimes fuzzed a bit to protect user privacy,” as reported by Ellen Huet of Forbes. If user identities and locations were revealed, what would happen? Users would not be able to hide behind their smartphone screens.

10681762_740835702629570_1617292812_nBecause this application was quickly discovered by teenagers, the repercussions―such as cyber-bullying―had to be taken into consideration. Released internationally in May 2014, Secret went viral in Brazil in August, spreading to Graded soon after classes resumed. That first week, many Graded smartphones were the focus of mystery, humor, and anxiety. The app was intriguing to students who wanted to know who posted what―but also humiliating when some became targets of comments. While there were students who had positive or neutral reactions, no one could really tell who was actually shrugging off the posts and who secretly cared. Others, including myself, laughed at posts, trying to forget that we could be future targets of posts. One senior claimed that the application reached a certain point of ridicule in which posts verged into the hilarious. On the other hand, Daniel Castaño, a junior at Graded, for example, felt that Secret was used for the wrong purposes, and people ultimately focused on the secrets of others, rather than their own.

I did not download Secret, but I did look at people’s phones to see what was happening. I was curious. I also believe that many people downloaded the application simply looking for entertainment. However, I came to understand that posting or not, using Secret this way did not make me any better than the individual posting comments and hiding behind a screen. I’m not condemning those who browsed through Secret, because the app is interesting. Curiosity is natural, which is why Secret has become so notorious. Those who occupied their free time reading comical posts and criticism loved it, whereas the objects of comments obviously didn’t enjoy it as much.

Due to the potential for hurting others, the Secret app is contrary to Graded’s core values, which is why the administration acted as it did the second week of classes. During a flex time, High School teachers gathered students from every grade in different classrooms, asking them to act responsibly and reminding them that no good could come from this application. However, it’s difficult to ask teenagers to act with responsibility when they’re given that sort of anonymous power. This is exactly why Secret thrives: it’s where people can be honest or mean without facing consequences. Secret allows people to criticize others in a way that a tweet, a Facebook status, or a wall post could never allow.

What you do when given a forum where you’re anonymous and free to talk about your honest opinions of others reveals a lot more about you as a person. For that reason, Secret bothers me. Not because of its freedom of speech, but because of what people are capable of doing with such power. Although the Brazilian government has acted to ban the application, these sorts of anonymous apps are an online reality that cannot be stopped by authorities. Rather, current or potential users have to understand that those apps feed on the worst part of ourselves. Here at Graded, Secret seemed to be a week-long phenomenon, and its popularity now has decreased. However, it’s important to keep in mind that what was said can never be taken back and what was revealed of ourselves in a short period of time can, unfortunately, never be forgotten.