Here we go again. Another app lying to users.
There is yet another anonymous question asking/confession social media app floating around the internet claiming they’ve solved the bullying (and suicides) that plague older confessional apps like Ask.fm, this one borrows it’s name from the ever-popular cat movement online: Curious Cat.
It’s not brand new as it launched in April 2016, and I rarely talk about apps this small, in the 1 million user range with what looks like a staff of two, but I’m starting to see this one take off and I’m concerned that it’ll cause damage among early and middle adolescents. (Younger teens, 5th-9th grades especially)
Here’s What It Is
It’s actually not an app as of right now. It’s a very mobile-friendly website, meaning kids could use it without having to go through the process of adding an app from the App Store or Google Play.
The app allows people to create an anonymous account, signed on through Facebook or Twitter (so again, if you’re monitoring their email you’ll never see this account created), that lets them make connections with other anonymous people whom they can ask questions, answer questions, make confessions, comment on, or live chat with– all under the cloud of anonymity.
Here Are the Lies
Lie #1 – There’s no such thing as anonymity online, only perceived anonymity
This should be obvious. If you create an account with your Facebook or Twitter profile, you’re only feeling anonymous.
You aren’t anonymous to other users. Your Curious Cat profile points directly back to your Twitter or Facebook account. Curious Cat is very sloppy about hiding your social media profiles when a post is marked as “anonymous” as it took me 3 clicks to go from an anonymous posting to someone’s actual Twitter account.
And you aren’t anonymous to the website in a number of ways. There’s obvious ones, like they can link your account directly back to Facebook or Twitter. But, of course, they are also using your session information to track you IP address, hardware MAC address, geolocation, and a whole host of other stuff.
Lie #2 – Perceived anonymity is your friend, in fact it’s destructive
Curious Cat’s questions prompt further questions in turn, like whether trolling and online confession are two sides of the same coin. Sites like Curious Cat let us sabotage our virtual identities in the name of intimacy, as if in a bid to admit they’re a construction. But even this confession might itself be just an act. We might not be comparing ourselves to others: we might be comparing ourselves to ourselves.
Over and over again we’ve seen the allure of anonymity devastate people, particularly younger teens who aren’t ready for it developmentally. Whether it’s the spontaneous indiscretion of sending a nude on Snapchat or asking a bunch of strangers what they think about you based only on your profile picture on Curious Cat, the impact of these things hurts. For younger adolescents who are trying to sort out their identity these things have proven over and over again to be destructive.
Adults blow this off, as if someone telling you that they think you are ugly or your genitals aren’t sexy enough for them has no emotional impact. But over and over again I’ve talked to teenagers who just can’t quite shake the negative things that have done or have happened to them online under the veil of anonymity. An anonymous negative comment hurts them as much if not worse than one from a trusted friend.
Here’s What to Do
I’m having a hard time identifying any innocent use or even some function or utility for Curious Cat. (Unlike Snapchat, whose behavior is now largely benign where the utility often outweighs residual negatives from starting as a sexting app.) Curious Cat just seems to me to be another attempt at an old concept… asking people “anonymously” what they think of you.
The upsides are minimal but the downsides are huge. Again, particularly for younger users.
Parents, ask your kids if they’ve heard of any new anonymous apps. Don’t name this one… you don’t want to make it more popular or create a self-fulfilling prophesy. Rather than introduce the app, talk about some reasons why they wouldn’t want to chat or share photos or ask questions anonymously. Chances are very, very high that people aren’t who they say they are!
If you find out that your child is using Curious Cat, I would encourage you to have a conversation about why they are using it, how they discovered it, what they like about it, etc.
Then decide whether or not to continue using the app together. Nothing will make it popular quite like simply banning it. It’s better to talk about it.