Tell me what I don’t want to hear

NGL is only the latest anonymous-messaging platform to take off by making explicit the subtext of most social media: We’re all judging one another. Why is it so hard to resist?
It seems that every few years, a new anonymous-messaging platform enters the market; rapidly gains a fan base, investments, and media attention — then crashes and burns. Usually, the cause is some combination of unfettered bullying, harassment, or misinformation that blooms within the platform.اضافة اعلان

And yet, the apps keep coming. One of the latest arrivals is NGL, which invites users to solicit anonymous questions and comments from their followers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere. NGL, the app’s website explains, “stands for not gonna lie”.

(Photos: NYTimes) 

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

“Anonymity has always been the secret sauce,” said Sherry Turkle, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who studies people’s relationships with technology. She said the craving for anonymous self-expression was nothing new, pointing to the confessional booth in some churches as an example.

But, she added, the desire for anonymity has never been about anonymity itself. After all, in many cases, the promise of anonymity is false, or, at best, qualified — the priest often knows who the confessor is, and apps that collect and distribute secrets are simultaneously collecting their users’ private data. In fact, NGL, which was started in November, goes even further, offering users hints about their respondents for $9.99 per week.

“Anonymity is a way to open the door to a feeling of space and permission, to a liminal space between realms where you can express something true or speak something true that you can’t in the rest of your life,” said Turkle, the author of “The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir.”

Harold David, 34, an administrator for a fitness company in New York, recently tried out NGL. “It’s fun to see what people will say when it’s anonymous,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to know someone’s secret thoughts on them?”

He said he had seen a few friends use the app and expected “more crass or more lewd” comments. But, he said, “it was actually a warm flood of responses about people’s experiences with me, so it was a really nice surprise.”

The experience of Haras Shirley, 26, a school resource officer in Indianapolis, was not as positive. Shirley received about a dozen responses after posting a link to NGL on Facebook and Instagram.

“I figured there would be more questions about my transition, and I’d be able to give some insight into how to ask those questions appropriately,” he said. Instead, he said, most of the questions were shallow, asking what his favorite color is or what was the last thing he ate.

He understands the appeal of the app. “These apps give you the idea that people are interested in who you are and want to know more about you,” he said. But it is not for him. “This really is geared toward kids in middle and high school,” he said.

As quickly as the app has risen, it has run into criticism.

Anonymous-messaging platforms such as ASKfm, Yik Yak, Yolo, and LMK have long struggled to contain bullying, harassment, and threats of violence. Messages on Yik Yak led several schools to evacuate students in response to bomb and shooting threats. Yolo and LMK, anonymous-messaging apps, are being sued by the mother of a teenager who died by suicide. (The apps were integrated into Snapchat, whose parent company, Snap, was initially a defendant in the lawsuit but no longer is.)

Secret, yet another anonymous-messaging app, shut down in 2015 despite investments from major Silicon Valley players. In a Medium post announcing the company’s closure, David Byttow, one of it founders, wrote that anonymity is “the ultimate double-edged sword.”

Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer at the American Psychological Association, said that on the internet, people assume that the opinions of a few represent a large subsection of the population.

“Anonymity,” he said, “makes this worse.” The result is that if someone leaves an anonymous comment saying your haircut is ugly, for example, you begin to think that everyone thinks your haircut is ugly.

When Reggie Baril, 28, a musician in Los Angeles, posted an NGL link for his 12,000 followers on Instagram, he expected questions about his career. “I was very wrong,” he said. Of the 130 responses he got, there was “more hate than not”.

He read a couple of comments aloud during a phone interview. “You could be so successful but your attitude is awful, you won’t make it,” he said. “I’m not sure 2015 Reggie would like 2022 Reggie.” Another one called him “a social climber.” He was surprised by the acidity.

When Clayton Wong, 29, an editorial assistant in Los Angeles, tried out NGL, he received an unexpected “confession” that told him to search for a specific love song online. Wong was immediately suspicious. “I didn’t think the song was very good,” he said. “If this person knew me, they would know this isn’t something I would be into.”

After he scrolled through the comments on the song on YouTube, he realized dozens of people had received an anonymous “confession” of feelings that had directed them to the same video.

Johan Lenox, a musician friend of Baril’s, expected a “chaotic” NGL experience but got the opposite. He was surprised people wanted to shield their identity when asking questions such as what he does after performing or what it’s like to be a musician. It left him wondering about the point of the app.

He thinks NGL will meet the fate of other apps that disappeared as quickly as they appeared. “No one will talk about it again in a month,” he said.

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