“Who’s hooking up with whom at the firangi’s party tonight?”
This sentence flashed across my smartphone screen some weeks ago on the app Secret, which I had downloaded a few days earlier. The question being posed suggested that the person was someone with a prurient curiosity about other people’s lives, and the use of the word “firangi” (white foreigner), perhaps that he or she was Indian. Since posts on Secret are anonymous, I didn’t know who the author was. What I did know, however, was that there was not more than one degree of separation between me and this unnamed individual.
Secret is one of several anonymous social networks set up in the past few years, most with their headquarters in the US, that allow users to post thoughts, observations and rants anonymously. On others, such as Yik Yak and Whisper, your feed consists of the posts of other app users who are geographically close to you. Secret, however, ups the ante by tapping into your personal and professional life. While there is one stream titled “Explore,” with posts that are a mix of those from people in the vicinity and the city as well as popular posts from around the world, a more tantalising stream titled “Friends,” comprises posts from Secret users who are on your phone or email contact lists. Also on this stream are posts that those “Friends” have “hearted.”
To protect users’ identity, in order to view a friend’s posts you have to have at least three friends on Secret, which makes it less easy to trace the source of specific posts. Effectively, Secret is like Facebook as a masquerade ball, at the centre of which is a friction between anonymity and identity. This friction makes the app somewhat addictive. These are, after all, people you know, saying things they wouldn’t say publicly.
For “friends” of the person posting about the party, it was presumably apparent which party was being referred to.