How Concerned Should Parents Be About Whisper?

Whisper is an anonymous app, launched almost 10 years ago, where people post things that they might not want to admit to in public. While maybe not as well known by parents as some others, it has over 900 million accounts, according to the Washington Post and many of them are teens.

According to the Whisper’s own terms and conditions, users must be at least 13, but anyone under the age of 18 may only use the app under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian who agrees to their terms of use. They indicate that anyone who does not agree with these terms should simply not access or use the service. How often do you expect that happens?

While the company calls what people post on the app, “User Content”, most people simply call them either “Whispers” or “Secrets.” I’ve used Whisper and found it to be one of the most interesting apps out there. Of course, I fully expect that most of the “user content” is fake.

Assuming that people actually use it for its intended purpose, to secretly tell things about themselves and that they probably wouldn’t tell people they know, it’s probably harmless. But that’s clearly not all that happens on the app. Below is a graph for a grading system that I devised to help parents understand the risks involved for their children using popular apps. In my most recent article on Instagram, I explain in detail what the values on the graph mean and how using an app might endanger a child, but here it is below in a nutshell:

What the Numbers Mean:

The numbers / ratings represent the likelihood that you will see the risky behavior occur within this app.

  • Rating < 5 is minimal risk and is highly unlikely to occur on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.
  • A rating of 5-6 is average risk – it should concern parents, but not overly so.
  • A rating of 7 or 8 is problematic and should concern parents quite a bit.
  • A 9 or 10 rating is very troubling as that behavior is almost a certainty within this app, and involves issues that are likely of extreme concern to parents, such as sextortion and child pornography.

Catfishing (10 out of 10)

As an “anonymous” app, there is no attempt made to identify the users. The profiles, what little of it there is on the app, don’t even include the possibility of a picture be added. That makes it perfect for people who don’t wish to be identified. When posting a secret on the app, users have the ability to upload a picture for that individual post, which may be of themselves or it may be one that they took from some other source. Additionally, Whisper has a large library of images available by users and the app will suggest images based on words typed by the user that get superimposed in front of the image.

Cyberbullying (8 out of 10)

The potential for cyberbullying exists anywhere. I’ve seen it on posts/apps where I would least expect it. With Whisper, it can often come from pictures that the person posted which were meant to be silly or sexy. Body shaming is pretty common in cases like this on Whisper, assuming that the image in the post is really of the person who posted it.

As another example, in a recent posting, a woman announced that her boyfriend had revealed online that they were engaged before she wanted it publicly known. Within just a few hours, there were well over 300 replies, many saying that she should be happy that he was excited to be engaged. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the replies were critical of the original post and a few were not polite about it, to say the least.

Language (8 out of 10)

There is virtually no filter on what people say on social media platforms and Whisper is no exception. On social media apps that are popular with kids, they may choose to intentionally spell words incorrectly, but close enough that the reader understands the message. For example, they may use “$” instead of “S” or “!” instead of “I.” Most likely, they are trying to avoid filters that search for specific keywords but considering how often I’ve seen posts on Whisper that have foul/inappropriate words on them, it seems likely that they have little to be concerned about in this area.

Nudity (8 out of 10)

This is a little bit of a gray area. Overall, I have seen very little, if any actual nudity on Whisper, but many images certainly push the boundaries. I have observed images showing both boys and girls in images that their parents would probably object to them using/seeing. As Whisper does allow people to send private messages between users, there may be cases where nudity is involved there, but I can’t say that for sure.

Privacy (6 out of 10)

As an anonymous app, this app has the advantage of not giving others easy access to users’ personal information. Facebook, for example, provides lots of opportunities for people to publicly share where they work, who they’re married to and more. So long as users practice common sense, there’s not too much risk of privacy being lost here. The risk with Whisper is how much personal information people are willing to share within their posts and through private messages. Let’s just hope that common sense prevails.

Sexting (8 out of 10)

This is a huge issue on the app. From what I can see, the majority of posts seem to have at least some sexual connotation to them. The rating would be higher than this based simply on the sheer volume of sexual content (explicit and implicit) on the app, however it is tempered somewhat by the anonymous nature of the app. It clearly has the potential for a higher rating, especially for an app that hosts groups with names such as Sexual Confessions, Horny People, etc.

Sextortion (6 out of 10)

Any app/site that has the potential for sexting also has the potential for sextortion – the act of forcing others to perform acts of a sexual nature online. This typically requires sending images or videos, which the recipient can then use against them to force them to send even more images or do just about anything else they want to avoid the images being made public.

It gets worse if the target provides their profile names for other sites/apps, which is common on Whisper. Unfortunately, it is very common to see people post their Snapchat or Instagram name on the account, (assuming that they’re providing their own information and not intentionally setting someone else up for online harassment).

Stalking (8 out of 10)

I recommend minors not use Whisper and that anyone who does use it disable the ability for the app to know their location. I say that because the app has a feature that will automatically include the location of where the picture was posted from. Other users then have the ability to search for posts made close to their current location.

A little over three years ago, a story made the news about a young girl who met a man on Whisper. She was only 14 but claimed to be 15-17 (Whisper uses age brackets). At some point, the man suggested that they switch over to a different app. At that point, he requested that she send him naked pictures of herself and she acquiesced. Eventually, they met in person, where he provided her with marijuana and eventually, sexually assaulted the young girl, according to authorities.

This was all possible because the predator was able to search geographically on the app to find potential targets. Online predators are very skilled at finding and recruiting, as I’ve written here on Pediatric Safety.

Another feature on Whisper is to find posts that were made recently. This lets predators hopefully find people before they have signed off and can engage them in a conversation. In theory, a good idea, but it is too easy for predators to exploit.

Viruses (3 out of 10)

Sending viruses via Whisper is all but impossible, from what I’ve seen. When entered as part of a secret, the words are there, but it has been converted to an image, not an active link. However, anyone who wished to send a virus could easily do so by placing it into a direct message to someone.

If they, in turn, copy/paste it into a browser, the virus could take effect. The tease of seeing naked pictures might entice someone to do that and with URL shorteners, it wouldn’t even look like a potential risky site.

Bottom Line

Whisper is riskier than it might appear were we to average the nine potential areas of concern. That is, an average would treat each of the concerns equally, but as parents, we may be more concerned with the areas of cyberbullying and sextortion than the risk of a virus. When it comes to using Whisper as safely as possible, there are some basic principles that all users, but especially kids, should follow:

  1. It may be cynical, however, assume that nobody is who they claim to be on Whisper.Trust, but verify doesn’t apply here because everyone is hiding behind a veil of anonymity.
  2. Assume that whatever you post on the app will be seen by everyone, not just the people who have access to seeing your posts. When taking the geographic search feature into account, it is very possible that people within your own community can see what you post on Whisper.
  3. Never, under any circumstances, post a picture of yourself, or anyone else for that matter, that you might regret later. It’s better to think of it not being a question of IF someone you know will see what you post, but WHEN will they see it. That includes parents, teachers, siblings, co-workers, etc.

Like most apps, Whisper can be fun to use, but it comes with risk and those risks need to be considered. As I mentioned earlier, I have already done a similar article here on Instagram and will be doing more apps in the future, so I recommend that you check back here for more articles on popular apps. You can also check out my other articles here on Pediatric Safety by visiting my profile and complete list of articles.

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About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for several years. He is also an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson University. It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that he became involved in helping others in the area. He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention and is the cyberbullying advisor to Fifty Shades of Purple against Bullying. He is also the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016. Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

Comments

2 Responses to “How Concerned Should Parents Be About Whisper?”

  1. Ruth Delores Smithsays:

    Thank you Joe. This is an important article and I certainly have not heard of this app. I will definitely share.

    Ruthie

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