Russian start-up unface.me has launched a platform on which users can create an anonymous profile, draw on real life information from Facebook accounts (and its Russian equivalent, VKontakte), and gossip about their social circles.
Its creators have cited American soap Gossip Girl as an inspiration; the show’s narrator is an anonymous, all-knowing blogger whose juicy revelations wreak havoc on the lives of other characters. “We decided to go further,” days Dmitrii Ponomarev, “and develop a place where people can share their feelings freely and get honest opinions from their friends.” There is, however, a salacious aspect to unface.me: “Sharing secrets and gossip can be done too. We strongly believe that anonymity loosens up and helps discovering new facts about friends and yourself.”
For example, Ponomarev explains, “a user can anonymously write a story about his friends on yesterday’s party, share it anonymously… and watch the discussion.” Similarly, a user can post a photo of his or her new look “and get really honest responses from friends, because they are anonymous. Or he can start an anonymous chat with his friends, and discuss something that matters, but no one will know each other’s names… We’ve gone much further than just posting anonymous text messages.”
This anonymity, though, could be cause for concern. According to www.bullyingstatistics.org, one in four teens has experienced bullying online to some extent. And while it might have begun as an attempt to recapture teens’ waning interest of teens in Facebook-esque sites, it seems inevitable that a faceless network such as unlike.me will attract people willing to spread rumours of an increasingly malicious nature.
Trolling has come under intense scrutiny recently, and there is an on-going dialogue over freedom of expression and what exactly constitutes bullying. If unface.me proves popular among its target demographic, it will be a worrying indication that legitimised trolling may indeed be a growing trend, one which both normalises cyber-bullying and relieves its perpetrators of any real accountability, as they are safe behind an anonymous