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Facebook will emulate Whisper with new anoymity app

Facebook is coming off a recent scandal in which it clashed with drag queens over using real names

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
October 7, 2014
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/399a

Facebook has been pretty bold in the way that it has tried to emulate Snapchat, even going to far as to release two different apps that, essentially, copied Snapchat's features and style. Now the company may have found its next target to try to rip off... I mean emulate: Whisper.

Facebook is currently working on a new stand-alone app, one that will allow users to not use their real names, according to a new report out from the New York Times. 

This is a big change of pace when its Facebook's long standing policy on identity; on its main service, it has strongly encouraged its users to identify themselves as who they really are, and by their given names, to better establish connections and, let's be honest, to giver advertisers a better idea of who they are selling to.

Of course, there is no way for Facebook to really know that you are who you say you are, and I know plenty of people who do not use their given names on the site. But actually actively allowing such a practice may be an acknowledgement that the Internet is changing, and that some things are better said without anyone being able to trace it back to you.

As Whisper CEO Michael Heyward said at Vator Splash LA last week: Whisper is "the safest place on the Internet" because it allows people to freely express themselves with fear of consequence, while also maintaining rigid security to make sure that nobody spoils the party. 

The new Facebook app is reportedly being led by Josh Miller, former CEO of social sharing service Branch Media, which was bought by Facebook in January. Founded in 2011, Branch Media offered two separate services: Branch, a platform for hosting, and publishing, invite-only conversations; and Potluck, a Web and mobile app that was “designed for friends to talk about cool things they find online.”

Given his prior experience, Miller seems to be a good fit for an app that encourages conversation, while still maintaining some amount of control over what is said, and by whom.

An anonymity app comes at an interesting time for Facebook, as the company has just weathered a scandal regarding strong arm tactics used to force drag queens on the network to change to their real names.

Facebook's chief product officer, Chris Cox, eventually apologized for the incident, blaming it on an individual who reported several hundred accounts as fake.

"In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced, we've had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We've also come to understand how painful this has been," he said. "We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we're going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were."

Whether or not this incident has been sufficiently smoothed over, it highlighted a real problem between Facebook's policies and how people actually use the service. Perhaps Facebook is simply hoping that by giving users both options, it can have the best of both worlds. 

A Facebook spokesperson would not comment on the veracity of the New York Times report.

(Image source: ryot.org)


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