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Heyward on Whisper's firm policies on revealing members

At Splash LA, CEO Michael Heyward says Whisper has weekly calls with authorities

Innovation series by Steven Loeb
October 3, 2014
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/398a

Do you remember the recent incident in which a man who was having a standoff with the police used Whisper to document the incident? Whisper was in touch with the man during the situation and, presumably, the police as well. Eventually it ended peacefully; no one was hurt and the man was arrested.

While this is obviously an extreme example of what can happen by giving people the ability to post anonymously, it turns out that it's not all that rare of an occurrence for the anonymous sharing app to be on the phone with law enforcement, especially one as popular as Whisper. 

At Vator Splash LA on Wednesday, Vator founder and CEO Bambi Francisco sat down with Whisper CEO Michael Heyward, who just celebrated his 27th birthday the night before.

While Francisco acknowledged that the upside of Whisper is that it allows people to share without fear of retribution, the site's downside, however, is that it could encourage anti-social behavior. That would clearly mean Whisper had a responsibility to educate its members. 

The conversation eventually turned to the company's policies on reporting on people who post on the site. As Francisco pointed out, psychologists have confidentiality agreements with patients, but are allowed to violate that trust if they feel the patient is a danger to themselves or to others. Does Whisper follow the same policies and regulations?

Heyward's first response was that the company is "not in the business of therapy. We actually do a lot more than a therapist might. Or I guess that depends on the therapist." 

But more important was a pretty intriguing statistic that he dropped: Whisper has interactions with the police on a weekly basis, and Heyward believes it's a good thing. We agree. It shows Whisper is taking its role seriously by being responsible stewards of its site.

"We have all different types of policies around law enforcement. I'd say we probably have two to three interactions with law enforcement per week. I mean, if that's not happening, and you're in user-generated content, then you're probably at a very small scale. And so I think that's a healthy number."

Sometimes it is the police contacting Whisper, but in some cases the company will take the step and "proactively reach out to law enforcement," specifically when a child might be in danger.

"Anything that is ever involving a minor, where a minor is at risk, we will proactively reach out to law enforcement, as well as to NCMEC, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. So we don't wait for something to happen, we curb anything that we think there anyone under 18 years in serious danger either from another adult or from other kids, we work to proactively prevent."

When it comes to suicide, the company directs them to places where they can seek help.  

"Anytime somebody is talking about putting their own life at risk, we actually direct that user to the National Suicide Hotline, as well as our own non-profit organization that we started about 18 months ago. It's called Your Voice."

YourVoice is Whisper's non-profit organization founded in 2012 to give Whisper users struggling with mental illnesses a place to share their voice and give them access to resources in hopes that they seek professional help.

Francisco asked how many members struggle with "mental illness" and whether that could make Whisper a target for predatory advertising.  

Over 40,000 people have been referred to the National Suicide Hotline by Whisper, which may sound like a big number, but to Heyward it pales in comparison to all of the million of posts that have been put on Whisper.

"In the grand scheme of all the Whisper ever posted, that is not a huge amount, but this potentially 40,000 people who were suffering and going through, like, so much pain they felt that they had the urge to take their own life and that's something that it feels really good to know you’re helping those people."


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Whisper
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Description: Whisper is an anonymous social network that is revolutionizing the way millions are interacting and expressing themselves online. At Whi...
Bio: Founder Vator, Managing Partner - Vator Investment Club; Former Columnist/correspondent Dow Jones MarketWatch; Business anchor ...

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