Friends, watch what you say in Secret

Friends, watch what you say in Secret
A new mobile app used to confess secrets anonymously could be used for cyberbullying without much repercussion, experts have warned.

SINGAPORE - A new mobile phone application that allows users to anonymously confess secrets is gaining popularity here, but users have just as quickly discovered an ugly side to it - cyber bullying.

Some have found themselves at the receiving end of disparaging posts on the Secret app, such as a victim, who wanted to be known only as Bryan. He found that someone had posted his picture, along with comments labelling him as "fat, ugly, and trying too hard to be popular".

"It's hard for me to find out who, but there are a lot of superficial attacks on the app. Some are sexual too. It can get very nasty," said the 21-year-old student, whose friends have also been attacked. "I just try to lay low and let it blow over."

Because of the way Secrets is designed, it can be used for cyber bullying without much repercussion, legal experts warned.

Introduced here last month, the app has already garnered much attention. It topped the social networking app chart in Singapore's iTunes store upon release, and was ranked No. 8 on the Google Play store last Monday, according to app-ranking website App Annie.

Users can link their phone or Facebook contacts to the app, which then populates a feed of "secrets" that they can contribute to. They can upload pictures, or "like" and comment on the confessions of friends, as well as the friends of their friends.

While some confessions are harmless and humorous observations on daily life, other users have seized on the anonymity afforded by the app to make callous remarks about others.

Law professor and chairman of the Media Literacy Council Tan Cheng Han said that the recently passed Protection from Harassment Act applies, but users must prove that the perpetrator "had an intention to harass".

"Much will depend on the facts, including whether the person commented on is part of the 'circle', or can reasonably be expected to be told about what goes on within the circle," said Mr Tan, referring to how the app allows users to view confessions from friends of friends.

Civil remedies, criminal sanctions and self-help options are available for victims, such as applications for protection orders. While defamation laws apply, it would be hard to track down the individual, as Secret includes extra security measures to ensure users' anonymity, said lawyer Lionel Tan from Rajah & Tann.

"It is possible... to compel app creators to remove the defamatory message... But if they are based overseas, it may be difficult to enforce," he added.

HELPLINES
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019
Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800

jianxuan@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Aug 11 in The Straits Times.

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