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Whisper is a free anonymous social networking app that was launched in 2012 and has around 30 million monthly users. Users can sign up to Whisper using a nickname and PIN number and then post any content they want, never having to reveal their identity. Unlike other social media apps, users do not have a profile on Whisper, so they do not have friends, followers, email addresses, photos or things that establish who they are. The posts, known as ‘Whispers’, consist of text over an image, which can be uploaded or found within an image gallery on the app. People can respond to these posts publicly or through private messaging. Whisper gives users a sense of anonymity and a feeling that they can share anything they want. The app describes this approach as part of believing ‘that happiness is being your real self’.
Official age rating
The minimum age for Whisper users is 13. It asks users under 18 to only access the site with parental supervision, however it does not have any rigorous age verification methods.
The Apple App Store rates it as 17+ and Google Play gives it a ‘Parental guidance’ rating.
As users do not need to register or set up an account to use the site, there is no opportunity to apply privacy settings or parental controls.
Find out more about age ratings in our ‘A parent and carer’s guide to age ratings of apps and games’.
How children and young people use the app
Children and young people can find anonymous apps exciting because they allow them to share and interact with others without revealing who they are. This is particularly the case when using the location features to find people’s secret thoughts when they are close to them in proximity or even part of their school community.
Another feature of the app is the kind of content it shows. By promoting content that contains ‘social confessions’ there is a ‘click bait’ element to many of the posts with people revealing secret thoughts and feelings about family, friends, relationships and situations which may be shocking or controversial.
Key features and terminology
Users post text on an image they upload or select from the ‘Whisper library’. To view ‘Whispers’ from others, users can select to view whispers from ‘Groups’, ‘Popular’, ‘Nearby’, or ‘Latest’. Users can add a school in location and then use Whisper in a particular school.
Users can select interest groups. These can be anything including ‘sex and relationships’ and ‘health and wellness.’
These are the most popular topics on the app at any one time.
This uses the location setting to find other local users
This shows the last shared posts on the app.
Similar to Instagram, you can use a heart-shaped icon to show that you ‘love’ a post.
You can write a whisper about someone else’s post in the form of a reply.
You can chat with the creator of a post by tapping the speech bubble icon on the bottom of an image that has been shared.
Chats are rated out of 10 and appear next to the image when you begin a chat. The higher the rating the ‘happier’ the face emoji becomes. You rate someone's image in the same way by adding it to your favourites.
Whilst the site states that it is suitable for users aged 13+, there is a risk of exposure to a range of inappropriate content via the app. Whisper does have community guidelines which reminds users ‘Don’t be mean, don’t be gross, don’t use whisper to break the law’, and states that it actively moderates content, but there is still a lot of explicit content shared on the app. A range of the interest groups on the app are dedicated to sexual interests and sexual confessions. There also appears to be a significant amount of sexual harassment and trolling via the app. Encourage your child to speak to you if they encounter any content they find upsetting or disturbing.
Connecting with others
There is a default location feature in the app which shares the location that each ‘Whisper’ is posted from. In combination with the exchange of explicit sexual content on the app, this increases the potential for grooming. Whispers in the ‘Nearby’ option, for example, it shows how near other users are. There are concerns around the use of Whisper for grooming by adults trying to engage children through their posts and by using the direct messaging function to establish contact. They may then also be close enough in proximity to arrange a meeting in the offline world. Speak to your child about the risks of connecting with strangers and explain the importance of not sharing any personal or identifiable information within chats. Encourage them to tell you if they have been asked more personal questions or to chat privately in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
A key risk of these services is that users may feel less accountable for the things they say and share and that bullying and nastiness directed at individuals can build up quickly. The location aspect of the service means that it can be used in a school environment to target victims and the sense of anonymity means that it is easy to draw people into the conversation. Young users can be drawn into bullying interactions, believing that comments or remarks will not be traced back to them and that they will not be held accountable. The open offer of anonymity can make people less likely to reflect on their behaviour and think about the impact they are having on others. It can also give young people a false sense of security about sharing.
Design, data and risks
Whilst the Whisper app is advertised to be completely anonymous, in reality people can and have been traced on the app when they have broken the law. It is also important to be aware that despite promising anonymity, Whisper does take and use data from users, including location data. The app also requests access to users’ phone camera and other features. When users first download the App, they are prompted to enable all notifications. As with many other messaging apps, it has been designed to keep users engaged and on the platform for extended periods of time. It can be difficult for children to resist the notifications encouraging them to respond. Encourage your child to take a break from the platform and have screen-free time.
Tips for keeping your child safe
There are no parental controls or safety settings on Whisper. The Whisper ‘Help centre’ advises you on how to prevent your child getting access to the app by setting controls on the device they are using. There is no advice on how to make the app safer if you are using it.
To enable a pin:
- Go to your account.
- Select the settings icon in the top right-hand corner.
- Scroll to ‘Privacy’ and then ‘PIN’
- Choose a PIN to help protect your privacy.
There are very limited safety settings available on Whisper. Explore the settings menu to check that the limited settings are appropriate for your child. As you do not need to register or set up an account to access Whisper, it is difficult to manage interactions or content. Explore the parental controls on your individual devices and broadband service, which allow you to put filters and blocks in place. Whilst you need to enable location services to first open the app, you can then disable ‘Location services’ on your individual device settings, rather than within the app.
To disable location services on iOS:
- Go to your settings menu and scroll to ‘Privacy’.
- Select ‘Location services’ and toggle off the ‘Location services’ option.
To disable locations services on Android:
- Go to your settings menu and scroll to ‘Personal’
- Select ‘Location access’ and toggle off the ‘Access to my location’ option.
Users can report and block other users who may be bothering them or behaving inappropriately on the platform.
To report a user:
- Go to your account and select the settings menu.
- Scroll down to ‘Email support’ and select ‘Report a user’.
- This creates an email draft for you to write your report and submit.
You can also flag individual whispers. These reasons include:
- Nudity or sexually explicit content
- Bullying/Hate speech
- Inappropriate or graphic content
- Imminent danger or threat
Flags will be reviewed by the platform and the post will be removed if they feel it has broken community guidelines.
There are limited features available that allow users to manage their time on the site, but users can disable ‘Push notifications’ to help manage the notifications they receive.
To disable ‘Push notifications’:
- Go you your account and select the settings menu.
- Scroll down to ‘Enable push notifications’ and toggle the option to off.
Explore the parental controls on your individual devices and broadband service, which may allow you to set time limits and controls.
Talk to your child about why they want to use Whisper and what the risks are, so that they are prepared in case something goes wrong for them or others. Make it clear to them that they are not necessarily anonymous on the app and explain how easy it is become involved in bullying from behind a screen. Discuss how strangers can use the app to try to make contact and attempt to meet in person. Keep channels of communication open so they can come and speak to you if something goes wrong.
Whisper has produced a parental control guide for parents and carers to help manage their child’s use of the app.