Philippine firm screens anonymous social networks

MANILA, Philippines – Whether it’s Whisper, Yik Yak, or Secret, social networks that prize anonymity have to keep clean of cyberbullying and threatening content. It's a daunting task, but it is one that companies like the Philippine outsourcing firm TaskUs are hired to take on.

The 3 services all have apps that allow users to post anonymously, allowing people to post their innermost secrets online without fear of being hurt.

At the same time, however, the services are being used to post cyberbullying, sex, or suicide messages, in addition to threats of harm to others.

GigaOm writes about TaskUs as a common thread that the 3 companies use to keep the peace on the social networks. Whisper and Yik Yak are both using TaskUs for content moderation, while Secret has negotiated an agreement to use TaskUs as well.

Whisper, TaskUs, and content moderation

Whisper, the company that has been using TaskUs the longest, has perhaps honed their system of vetting the best, with a 30-page operations manual for its team denoting what should be flagged and what actions need to be taken for specific situations.

The human vetting works in tandem with an analysis algorithm to flag as many messages as possible, and the system also takes into account things that may need police attention.

Physical threats are escalated from TaskUs to Whisper, where the company reports it to the authorities. “If someone posts, ‘I killed her and buried her in the backyard,’ then that’s a piece of content the company will report to the authorities,” notes TaskUs CEO Bryce Maddock.

“They’re going to pull the UID (Unique Identification Marking) on your cell phone from Verizon or AT&T and the FBI and local police will show up at your door. It happens quite a bit.”

Learning and refining the process

Despite working with TaskUs as well, Yik Yak and Secret are also still learning how to best perform their content moderation practices.

The expansion of their services also comes with a need to scale their secret-keeping and vetting process accordingly. In some cases, a company’s growth sometimes means certain things slip through the cracks.

In Secret’s case, Fortune magazine tested Secret by sending its own fake cyberbullying message and then having someone else flag it as inappropriate. The message wasn’t removed until some days later.

Fortune, summing up one of the problems of anonymity apps in general, said Secret “needs to do better. And fast. Perhaps as fast as it’s growing.” –

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.