November 2017 (Volume 68, Issue 2)
By Nina Yee, Staff Writer
As social media has become increasingly instantaneous and personal, the emergence of anonymous public forum sites come at no surprise. Platforms such as ASKfm, YikYak, Whisper, and Sarahah allow users to post and answer anonymous questions in an open environment for others to see. These apps market themselves as opportunities to gather public opinion and satisfy curiosity.
Adolescents are lured to the excitement of ask boxes. When asked why they use these, teens don’t cite the pointed gossip and veiled cyberbullying teeming in these online public forums. Instead, one Needham High School student justifies that they use these apps, “’Cause it’s fun, I guess.”
Newcomer app TBH has proven its popularity at Needham High by re-branding the anonymous ask box with a compliments-only atmosphere. It allows users to deliver a superlative to one of a randomly selected four classmates who also use the app, such as “Too lit to be legit.” The selected user is then notified that they have been picked, along with the selector’s gender and grade, and the other three people who were not chosen. The selectee is also rewarded with a virtual gem, allowing them to unlock more polls to answer.
While this may appear to be a positive use of social media, TBH ultimately allows high schoolers to feed into a popularity contest with a simple tap on their smartphone. Users are not altruistically motivated to award classmates with compliments, but instead answer questions only in hopes of being picked themselves. And they often answer questions dishonestly, choosing one of their friends over another classmate in order to avoid the embarrassment of picking someone that they don’t know well. “Anytime you’re developing your own personal value on social media, it’s a slippery slope,” says NHS guidance counselor Mrs. Mastropoalo. “Whether you know who’s making those judgements or its anonymous, it’s worrisome.” TBH becomes complicated and counterproductive when teens use it in hopes of being included in a larger community conversation, but end up feeling excluded. Users frequently obsess over their shortcomings and wonder why they are not picked for certain questions.
Crowdsourcing self esteem through social media is an unhealthy answer to social anxieties. To cope with these insecurities, Mrs. Mastropoalo suggests, “we would encourage those students to seek out adults in the building to share with, and get off of those sites.”