What would you say if no one knew who you were and could never find out? Would you share your deepest, darkest secrets? Would you finally tell the world what you think of your awful boss?
When identity and accountability are removed from our social-media posts, the result isn't pretty. Many are finding this to be true through the use of the new social mobile app Secret.
Secret is an application for smartphones that provides a totally anonymous forum for people from all walks of life to post whatever they'd like. Some post embarrassing stories; some post stories of their sexual conquests; some post the things they could never say to anyone in their real lives. The app allows us all to know what it's like for that Catholic priest sitting in the confessional booth all day, listening to confession after confession. But unlike confessional, this app doesn't offer forgiveness.
One community that has really taken a liking to the Secret app is the gay community in large cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco, and right here in New York. At times, a scroll through one's feed on Secret feels like walking through a back room in an underground sex club: The stories and gratuitous and graphic sexual acts, the tales of sex with multiple partners in one night, of orgies and kinks and other alternative bedroom preferences, are enough to make even the most seasoned amongst us blush -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Continue down the thorny path and you'll find confessions of unprotected sex, concealed HIV statuses, infidelities -- you name it. It's like a good episode of Taxicab Confessions.
Juicy, right? Well, unfortunately, there is a moment when the fun stops. It's the moment you realize that these people posting are your friends, people you interact with on a daily basis. Secret constructs your news feed from people you actually know. They are your Facebook friends, Twitter contacts, names in your address book. After a while there's that moment when the human being inside you asks, "Did I just have sex with someone concealing that they are HIV-positive?" or, "Is this person who's speaking about cheating on their boyfriend my boyfriend?" It's a breeding ground for suspicions and doubts. That's not exactly a fun way to spend your social-media time.
On occasion, there's no need to question whether or not the person being mentioned is you. In New York's drag and nightlife community, performers and personalities are finding themselves being called out by name in all manner of awful slander. It's not just the posting of a bad review of a show or performance that someone saw and didn't like but damaging tales of their personal and professional lives being broadcast right out. Name calling, betrayal, harassment, social judgment -- all these things are there for all to see. It's one big, awful high-school bathroom wall.
This isn't a blog post about being nice to each other or how we all need to stick together as a community, because I feel that goes without saying. This is a post about what I have learned from walking, blindfolded, into an open-mic night before the New York Secret community. Everyone wears masks, and that is nothing new. What I didn't know was just how hideous and awful a face can be under that mask. Take away the identity and accountability and people have the freedom to be as cruel and vicious and ugly as they see fit. You want to tell someone who wronged you that they have a small penis and no one likes them? Go right ahead. You want to post a picture of it? Even better. You want to tell that drag performer who took three hours to get dressed to come down and perform for you for tips in a loud and crowded bar that she's not worth anyone's time and that she should go kill herself? Step right up. This is your chance to be the awful person you can't be in your normal life. Who could resist such an opportunity?
Sure, it's fun to hear people's confessions and secrets. Not a whole lot has changed from the days in the schoolyard when you heard about Susie BigBoobs showing Bobby McFootball her tits behind the gymnasium. People still get a kick out of knowing what they shouldn't know, and because of that, apps like Secret will always remain popular. The part that scares me is that in the world we have now, we continue to come up with ways to be awful to each other. Bullying and taunting follow people through their entire lives, and it's not just a problem for our children. Just ask the drag queen who was brought to tears onstage during a late-night cabaret show in New York when discussing recent anonymous attacks against her on Secret. Who benefits from that?
As the kids say these days, "haters gonna hate." Nothing is going to stop cruel people from being cruel, except maybe a skydiving accident. However, we are in control of who we keep around us, and I feel that more people should take solace in that. Using applications like Secret is a choice. One has to choose to download it, choose to open it, choose to post, and choose to read. As I said before, this isn't a post about how we should be nice to each other and how we should be sticking together as a community. But maybe this is a post about making a different choice.