tbh: Can A Site Be Anonymous and Still Pull Off a Positivity Spin?

By now it’s old news that teens are not using Facebook as much as Facebook had hoped. Instead, they’re opting for Instagram, Whatsapp or SnapChat as cooler, more authentic alternatives. To re-invigorate its youth appeal, Facebook just bought an interesting app that’s garnered a healthy teen following in the last few months. Healthy – as in 5 million downloads --even though it’s still only available on iOS and in certain states.

The app is called tbh, which stands for to be honest, a term frequented in teen chat circles. The app combines polling with anonymous social media responses. This is not an especially novel idea, but the twist is that tbh and now, its new owners, Facebook believe they’ve implemented the app in a way that will cultivate only positive vibes amongst poll taking teens. Other anonymous rating and polling sites tend to foster more typical bullying and meanness.

Part of the “good vibes” halo is that the polling questions are developed by the app creators. That means no questions like “who’s the biggest loser in your class?” or “which girl is easiest to score with on the first date?” Instead you’ll get yearbook-like questions: “Who’s most likely to be President?” or “Who’s got the greatest smile?” Members can make up their own poll questions, but these are submitted to and vetted by the company before they’re circulated.

Who gets polled depends on how you opt to join in. You can share all of your contacts with tbh (not a great idea), register your school or you can invite your friends once you’ve signed up. There’s also a gamification piece. As you answer those yearbook-like questions about who’s the kid most likely to succeed, you collect gems -- the game's currency.

So, What Could Go Possibly Go Wrong?

Make no doubt about it: Fostering positive attitudes when you're answering anonymous questions is not a natural behavior. Jokers live everywhere and we all know it’s fun to instigate a little anonymous mischief on a site. tbh should prepare for the worst. They should also understand that non-votes hurt too. If you’re repeatedly not picked as the “Most Outgoing” or “Best Smile” you’re still suffering the slings of social media because you’re not important enough for inclusion. Omission can be as painful.

And make no mistake about it, while the app is free, so is the information it takes from you. tbh knows your location, age, friends and a bunch of choices that you’ll be making. How they’ll use that data remains to be seen, but I’m guessing the app will be able to inform everyone from retailers to entertainers to colleges something about what kids like.

Having an anonymous app that fosters positive vibes about a success is like singing Kumbaya as the answer to world peace. Teens I spoke with (fickle as they are) told me they had tried tbh but were now trying some newer apps like Sarahah, a similar, but non-corporate owned app.

For now, tbh intends to remain a separate entity from Facebook. It remains to be seen whether or not Facebook can attract the anonymously young and hip and keep them engaged. Since the app is not available in NYC yet (see the current map below) or for Android, I couldn’t test it as rigorously as I’d liked. Reader reviews were split, with some parents saying that it was still pretty easy for a child to create a hurtful poll and others saying that they loved playing along with their kids. Kids were also split between being addictively in love with it to thinking that never being chosen in a poll left them feeling sad.

Ratings and anonymous voting systems have a flash-in-the-pan quality that I don’t love. I do hope that Facebook can put a little creativity behind how kids might use ratings and pollings for good, but for now it sure seems like a me-too product that Facebook built to lure the young.

To see parental ratings of tbh visit Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/tbh.

Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today’s digital consumer.

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