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Whisper offers cathartic experience through anonymity

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I didn't really know what to expect when I launched the Whisper app for the first time.

I hadn't heard of it before seeing it mentioned in a list of suggested story topics. Intrigued after reading the summary on iTunes, I downloaded it immediately. "Whisper is the best place to express yourself online," the summary promised.

Whisper is an addictive social networking app that allows users to post secret thoughts, confessions, desires and opinions for the entire user community to see. Whispers are divided into four categories: Latest, Popular, Nearby and Featured.

Once the app loaded, it assigned me a randomly generated username, which I then altered to my liking. Aside from asking for the option to use your location, Whisper wants no personal information from you. That's because it separates itself from other social media services by placing an emphasis on anonymity.

Absent are avatars, profile pages, friends lists, the ability to search for other users or to follow them for updates and all of the standard features you're used to when using a social media service. Searching hashtags is the only thing that will feel familiar to social media addicts.

After I changed my username, I had to create a four-digit PIN. Every time you want to access your history, browse the Whispers you've liked or check private messages from other users, your PIN must be entered.

Without it, you can only browse Whispers and post new ones, preventing snoopy friends (or, more realistically, snoopy parents) from accessing your account. I find it odd that your PIN isn't required to post a Whisper, but if someone else were to post from your account, you're free to delete it.

Whispers are easy to make: type them out, choose a font and a background picture, tag them, decide if you want to provide your location and then you're good to go. Whispers can be favorited or replied to directly, which encourages community interaction.

Unfortunately, this also leads to people abusing the app. When I first scrolled through my selected feed (Latest), I rolled my eyes so far back into my head I could see my brain. If I didn't come across an annoying Whisper asking others to heart it if they "blank," I came across sleazy ones from people looking to hook up. Gross.

Whispers that contained salacious confessions (people really like cheating on their partners), intimate desires (I had no idea how many people dream of becoming a singer) and pop-culture thoughts (a majority of people at that time liked to clarify their status as pro/anti-Bieber) kept me interested enough to keep tumbling down the app's voyeuristic rabbit hole.

Eventually I decided to post Whispers of my own, and this is where I discovered the potential genius of the app. Like those of many other users, my Whispers contained a clichéd amount of teenage angst about being single or my lack of friends. Knowing both that my Whispers couldn't be traced back to me and that I finally had an audience to read about my pent-up feelings led to a great sense of catharsis.

Then I got my first private message.

The app conveniently shows you which Whisper prompted another user to send a message, which prevents you from being confused as to what exactly it was that you said to initiate a conversation. A user was curious about a Whisper I posted in which I vented about my unrequited love, asking if I'd be OK with explaining it more. When I did, they offered their condolences and dished out some advice, all while avoiding giving me their name and location or asking for mine.

This happened again as I began to open up a little more in my Whispers. The sense of protection that anonymity offers is unrivaled, and I felt safe enough to reveal things I wouldn't tell anyone otherwise.

These Whispers didn't reveal or imply thoughts of harming myself or others and were really rather trivial, yet I still received sympathetic messages from strangers who wanted to listen to me. Once I became more comfortable with the app, I began messaging others when their Whispers caught my eye, offering my ear to them like others had done for me.

Because anonymity offers such a sense of protection, I not only felt safe enough to spill my secrets, but I also felt safe enough to show more concern for others. You have the ability to become anyone when you're anonymous, but the person you end up becoming is almost always your true self. There's no need to have any emotional walls or worries about trust when you're anonymous, which is exactly why the Whisper app can potentially be so therapeutic.

I do stress that "potentially" is the key word because the app is what you make of it. You can control how much you want to express, and if it's something you're fine telling anyone, you're not really going to gain anything from Whisper.

Focusing on the cathartic nature of it like I did isn't your only option, though. Even if you post nothing, you might get a kick out of seeing the secret thoughts of others, especially if you're checking Whispers in your area.

Whisper is available for free on iOS and Android devices. I encourage you to give it a try, but be warned of those aforementioned gross hookup Whispers cluttering your feed. Some users do treat the app like a Craigslist personals section. Between those creeps and the naughtier Whispers, there's definitely good reason for the 17 plus age restriction.


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