Earlier this year Michael Heyward, the 27-year-old co-founder and CEO of anonymity-providing Whisper, spoke about the positive nature of his APP. Heyward said it was a space where people were safe from bullying, unable to use the APP to “make fun of other people, to say bad things about others, only as a security blanket to protect yourself.”
Despite Heyward’s good intentions there are now concerns about the prevalence of Thinspo posts (people posing pictures to inspire others to get skinnier), glamourizing emaciated bodies and encouraging dangerous eating habits.
The site launched in 2012 and now boasts 10 million active users, tempted by the freedom to share without revealing themselves. It has been touted as an antidote to Facebook where users can reveal their inner emotions with like-minded people, without worrying about the impact on their reputations.
Even more worrying, some of the anonymous users have sought advice or started discussions about mia or ana, abbreviations for bulimia and anorexia. Due to the APPs anonymity clause, there is no way to know who is posting these images and messages, but the vulnerable are certainly about to source them via a quick search.
Meme-like posts superimposed over images of women in their underwear boasting bulging hipbones and pointy ribcages ask “Anyone want to be pro Ana, pro Mia group chat?” or “I cry when I look at thinspo, why can’t I look like that?”
The alarming posts unveil a dark side that could lead to serious ramifications for the health of young people or those who struggle with eating disorders. Eating disorder sufferers post advice about how they keep thin or ask for tips in a way that sees them don a coach hat.
The positive is that in keeping with the Whisper’s positive approach, the APP hires over 100 moderators to remove negative posts, but with so many users, can they effectively control this?
Whisper isn’t the first site to be used as a pinboard for pro-Ana and Pro-Mia groups. Since the Internet’s inception there has been a proliferation of groups and users on social media sites and blogs purporting to be “thinspirational” or simply giving dieting advice to eating disorder sufferers. When you scratch beneath the surface, sometimes there’s a more sinister undercurrent.
If you or someone you know is struggling please contact:
Eating Disorders Helpline 1300 550 236
Butterfly Foundation National Helpline 1800 334 673
Lifeline 13 11 14
Or in New Zealand:
Eating Disorder Association of New Zealand (EDANZ)
www.ed.org.nz (09) 5222 679
Eating Disorder Services www.eatingdisorders.org.nz