Open, Honest ... and Stigmatizing? Online Post Via Mobile App Secret Causes Internet Firestorm
August 12, 2014
The popular mobile application Secret was the subject of a Twitter and Facebook firestorm among HIV activist circles this past weekend as a controversial post that many found stigmatized people living with HIV -- especially sexually active HIV-positive men -- made the rounds online. Secret, which has been featured in The New York Times, WIRED, The Guardian and more, is an app that lets people share thoughts and feelings anonymously with their friends, co-workers and people nearby.
The Secret post, in which the author calls for the institutionalization of HIV-positive men who engage in "risky sex practices," has amassed over 40 comments and 30 "hearts" -- this app's version of the "like." When one anonymous commenter pointed out that the author of the post needed "some education," the author responded, "I have twelve years of education -- four of which were spent in private school. Plus an additional four years in college. I'm quite educated thank you."
When contacted for comment, a representative from Secret -- Sarahjane Sacchetti -- immediately responded, saying "safety and content moderation ... [is] a critical part of our community. Every member of our community can flag, remove a post from their stream and importantly, block an author."
Sacchetti emphasized that Secret is founded on the idea that "anonymity can be an incredible tool for honest conversations -- and for giving people a safe place to talk about things they otherwise wouldn't, like the conflict in Gaza, mental health, loss, alcoholism, etc. and in this case, prejudices or unpopular viewpoints around STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] and HIV."
Sacchetti said that Secret's moderation team would review this particular post, but that she found the amount of "honest discourse that it generated" to be very interesting and indicative of the kind of conversations that Secret wants its users to have. "It seemed to spark a real debate and the commenters provided evidence, links and their viewpoints in a really respectful way."
One of the Internet activists who first raised concerns about the Secret post was Josh Robbins of the popular "I'm Still Josh" Internet campaign. While Robbins has used the Internet to further his activism, he also had much to say about whether this app could be doing more. "My HIV activism is powered by numerous apps. But with all this amazing new 'live' technology -- powering activists and communities like me -- it's important to understand the platform extends the same opportunity to others, including those less educated about HIV. But I make an ass of myself on digital at times, too.
"Look, Secret should take down that card, slap the user's hand a bit and say 'stop that' and move on. They have a great service and I think it could be something used in HIV partner notification services, but they have to get a handle on customer services."
Robbins has reached out to customer service, but he claims he has not gotten a response yet. "Cute app. I'm not a user yet, though."
Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.
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