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Sendit, Yolo, NGL: Anonymous Social Apps Are Taking Over Once More, but They Aren’t Without Risks

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Have you ever told a stranger a secret about yourself online? Did you feel a certain kind of freedom doing so, specifically because the context was removed from your everyday life? Personal disclosure and anonymity have long been a potent mix laced through our online interactions. We’ve recently seen this through the resurgence of anonymous question apps targeting young people, including Sendit and NGL (which stands for “not gonna lie”). The latter has been installed 15 million times globally, according to recent reports.

These apps can be linked to users’ Instagram and Snapchat accounts, allowing them to post questions and receive anonymous answers from followers.

Although they’re trending at the moment, it’s not the first time we’ve seen them. Early examples include ASKfm, launched in 2010, and Spring.me, launched in 2009 (as “Fromspring”).

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These platforms have a troublesome history. As a sociologist of technology, I’ve studied human-technology encounters in contentious environments. Here’s my take on why anonymous question apps have once again taken the internet by storm, and what their impact might be.

Why are they so popular? We know teens are drawn to social platforms. These networks connect them with their peers, support their journeys towards forming identity, and provide them space for experimentation, creativity and bonding.

We also know they manage online disclosures of their identity and personal life through a technique sociologists call “audience segregation”, or “code switching”. This means they’re likely to present themselves differently online to their parents than they are to their peers.

Digital cultures have long used online anonymity to separate real-world identities from online personas, both for privacy and in response to online surveillance. And research has shown online anonymity enhances self-disclosure and honesty.

For young people, having online spaces to express themselves away from the adult gaze is important. Anonymous question apps provide this space. They promise to offer the very things young people seek: opportunities for self-expression and authentic encounters.

Risky by design
We now have a generation of kids growing up with the internet. On one hand, young people are hailed as pioneers of the digital age – and on the other, we fear for them as its innocent victims.

A recent TechCrunch article chronicled the rapid uptake of anonymous question apps by young users, and raised concerns about transparency and safety.

NGL exploded in popularity this year, but hasn’t solved the issue of hate speech and bullying. Anonymous chat app YikYak was shut down in 2017 after becoming littered with hateful speech – but has since returned.

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These apps are designed to hook users in. They leverage certain platform principles to provide a highly engaging experience, such as interactivity and gamification (wherein a form of “play” is introduced into non-gaming platforms).

Also, given their experimental nature, they’re a good example of how social media platforms have historically been developed with a “move fast and break things” attitude. This approach, first articulated by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has arguably reached its use-by date.

Breaking things in real life is not without consequence. Similarly, breaking away from important safeguards online is not without social consequences. Rapidly developed social apps can have harmful consequences for young people, including cyberbullying, cyberdating abuse, image-based abuse and even online grooming.

In May 2021, Snapchat suspended integrated anonymous messaging apps Yolo and LMK, after being sued by the distraught parents of teens who committed suicide after being bullied through the apps.

Yolo’s developers overestimated the capacity of their automated content moderation to identify harmful messages.

In the wake of these suspensions, Sendit soared through the app store charts as Snapchat users sought a replacement.

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Snapchat then banned anonymous messaging from third-party apps in March this year, in a bid to limit bullying and harassment. Yet it appears Sendit can still be linked to Snapchat as a third-party app, so the implementation conditions are variable.

Are kids being manipulated by chatbots? It also seems these apps may feature automated chatbots parading as anonymous responders to prompt interactions – or at least that’s what staff at Tech Crunch found.

Although chatbots can be harmless (or even helpful), problems arise if users can’t tell whether they’re interacting with a bot or a person. At the very least it’s likely the apps are not effectively screening bots out of conversations.

Users can’t do much either. If responses are anonymous (and don’t even have a profile or post history linked to them), there’s no way to know if they’re communicating with a real person or not.

It’s difficult to confirm whether bots are widespread on anonymous question apps, but we’ve seen them cause huge problems on other platforms – opening avenues for deception and exploitation.

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For example, in the case of Ashley Madison, a dating and hookup platform that was hacked in 2015, bots were used to chat with human users to keep them engaged. These bots used fake profiles created by Ashley Madison employees.

What can we do?
Despite all of the above, some research has found many of the risks teens experience online pose only brief negative effects, if any. This suggests we may be overemphasising the risks young people face online.

At the same time, implementing parental controls to mitigate online risk is often in tension with young people’s digital rights.

So the way forward isn’t simple. And just banning anonymous question apps isn’t the solution.

Rather than avoid anonymous online spaces, we’ll need to trudge through them together – all the while demanding as much accountability and transparency from tech companies as we can.

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For parents, there are some useful resources on how to help children and teens navigate tricky online environments in a sensible way.


Noise co-founder Amit Khatri joins Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast, for a special episode. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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YouTube Plans to Launch Online Store for Streaming Video Services: Report

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Alphabet’s YouTube is planning to launch an online store for streaming video services, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The company has renewed talks with entertainment companies about participating in the platform, which it is referring to internally as a “channel store”, the report said, citing people close to the recent discussions.

The platform has been in the works for at least 18 months and could be available as early as this fall, the report added.

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Alphabet did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

With more consumers cutting the cord on cable or satellite TV and shifting to subscription-based streaming services, the planned launch will allow YouTube to join companies like Roku and Apple in a bid to gain a portion of the already crowded streaming market.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that Walmart has held talks with media companies about including streaming entertainment in its membership service.

Last month, YouTube collaborated with Shopify to allow merchants to sell through the video platform, as the Canadian company looks to tap into the growing number of content creators launching their own e-commerce stores. The partnership, which builds on an existing one with Google, will allow merchants to integrate their online stores with YouTube, which reaches over two billion monthly users. Shopify, which makes tools for merchants to set up their online stores, in June launched new features to help its clients sell to other businesses and on Twitter in a bid to counter a post-pandemic slowdown in online shopping.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


 

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US Gunman Posted 'Call to Arms' on Truth Social After FBI Searched Donald Trump's Home: Reports

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An armed man who fled after attempting to breach an FBI office in Ohio appears to have posted a “call to arms” on Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform after federal agents searched the ex-president’s home, US media reported Friday.

An account bearing the name of 42-year-old suspect Ricky Shiffer, identified by Ohio authorities on Friday, featured multiple posts of violent anger including his failed plan to attack the FBI, according to screen shots of the profile, multiple US outlets reported.

“This is your call to arms,” an account bearing Shiffer’s name posted on Truth Social.

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“I am proposing war,” the account posted, urging “patriots” to kill federal agents the day after Trump’s Florida residence was searched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation — a move that sparked outrage in right-wing circles.

Shortly before it was removed from the social media platform, the same account appeared on Thursday to confess to attempting to storm FBI offices in the midwestern state of Ohio.

The FBI said Thursday that a person armed with a weapon had tried to breach the entry to the bureau’s office in the city of Cincinnati.

According to local media, the man fired a nail gun and brandished an AR-15-style rifle before fleeing by car.

“Well, I thought I had a way through bullet proof glass, and I didn’t. If you don’t hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the FBI, and it’ll mean either I was taken off the internet, the FBI got me, or they sent the regular cops while,” read a post, which appears to end mid-sentence and was shared Thursday morning, according to reports.

The incident drew nationwide attention as it occurred only a few days after the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion, although there was no immediate confirmation the events were linked.

The suspect in Ohio was killed in a standoff with police after a vehicle pursuit and exchange of gunfire, authorities said.


What should you make of Realme’s three new offerings? We discuss them on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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Elon Musk Teases Potential Social Media Site as Competitor for Twitter

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Amid his ongoing legal battle against Twitter, Tesla CEO Elon Musk teased a potential social media site of his own as a competitor for Twitter. While responding to a question from one of his followers, Musk dropped a cryptic tweet, hinting at a potential new social media platform ‘X.com’.

On Tuesday, a social media user asked the billionaire tech tycoon whether he had given any thought to creating his own social platform.

Musk, who is quite active on Twitter, noticed the question and responded by just writing “X.com”.

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X.com used to be the domain name of a startup Musk founded two decades ago, which he later merged with financial services company PayPal.

In fact, last week, Musk talked about the website during Tesla‘s annual shareholder meeting last week as well.

“I do sort of have a grander vision for what I thought X Corporation could have been back in the day. It’s a pretty grand vision and of course, that could be started from scratch but I think Twitter would accelerate that by three to five years,” Musk had reportedly said.

The tweet comes at a time when Musk is involved in a high-stakes legal battle with Twitter.

Twitter recently sued Musk after he decided to back out of the $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3.5 lakh crore) takeover deal. In April, Musk reached an acquisition agreement with Twitter at $54.20 (roughly Rs. 4,500) per share in a transaction valued at approximately $44 billion.

However, Musk put the deal on hold in May to allow his team to review the veracity of Twitter’s claim that less than 5 percent of accounts on the platform are bots or spam.

Back in June, Musk had openly accused the microblogging website of breaching the merger agreement and threatened to walk away and call off the acquisition of the social media company for not providing the data he has requested on spam and fake accounts.

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Musk alleged that Twitter is “actively resisting and thwarting his information rights” as outlined by the deal, CNN reported, citing the letter he sent to Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust, Vijaya Gadde.

Musk demanded that Twitter turn over information about its testing methodologies to support its claims that bots and fake accounts constitute less than 5 percent of the platform’s active user base, a figure the company has consistently stated for years in boilerplate public disclosures.


What should you make of Realme’s three new offerings? We discuss them on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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